Photo Courtesy of Joanie Connors. A standing-room only crowd filled the Grant County Commissioners' meeting room on Monday.

The Grant County Commission had a rowdy, shouting and disrespectful group of at least 100 people on hand at a special meeting Monday afternoon.

The first item of business for the special meeting was approval of a resolution authorizing and approving the submission of a completed application for financial assistance and project approval to the New Mexico Finance Authority for the Colonias Infrastructure Fund.

County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said the application was for drainage and pavement for North Hurley, as the last part of water and drainage improvements to the area. The award would total $333,000, with 10 percent as a cash match and 10 percent as a soft match.

County Manager Jon Paul Saari said the application would include a waiver letter about the required 10 percent loan. "The NMFA requires a 90 percent award and a 10 percent loan unless the entity can show it has a 10 percent cash match. The loan would be at 0 percent, but with a 7 percent origination fee, we felt the cash match was a better deal for us."

The next agenda item was the reason for the standing-room only crowd – a resolution, declaring support of a Southwest New Mexico Regional Water Supply Project.  

Saari explained that, in recent weeks at the legislative session in Santa Fe, Sen. John Arthur Smith, representing parts of Luna County and Doña Ana County, dropped a capital outlay bill for $25 million to build a pipeline carrying Gila River water to Las Cruces. "It was a message bill to get the region to make a decision on a water usage project in the four-county area. If the region could not come to a decision, the water available under the Arizona Water Settlements Act would be sent to the Rio Grande, because of legal issues with Texas."

A project was developed, which amended a proposal from Deming to send water in a pipeline from the Gila River to Deming. The original proposal was already under evaluation by the Interstate Stream Commission.

The amended proposal created the Southwest Regional Water Supply Project, which included the pipeline, as well as diversions and storage for the 10,000 acre-feet of water from the Gila Basin as allocated to the four counties of Catron, Hidalgo, Luna and Grant counties by the AWSA. An additional 4,000 acre-feet is allocated to those in the San Francisco Basin.

The proposal would send water to an underground storage in or near Mangas Creek and would lift water over the Continental Divide where it would flow by gravity through Silver City and the Mining District municipalities to Deming. Saari said he had heard mention of up to a four-inch pipe, and the project would be taking into account municipalities and counties, including water to agricultural areas in Hidalgo County.

The amended proposal can be viewed in a pdf at http://nmawsa.org/library/amended-proposals-march-8-2013 .  It is posted for information only and has not yet been evaluated by ISC staff or the ISC commissioners.

"What we're saying is we don't feel it's a regional project," Saari said. "We want the effluent Grant County Water Commission Project and a permanent irrigation solution for the Gila Valley, with the water remaining in Grant County. Water that stays in the county may be injected into the ground to enhance aquifer recharge and stream flow."

He explained the Grant County reservoir project is not a diversion from the Gila, but puts a natural dam across Twin Sisters Creek to allow water to percolate into the ground, which will recharge Santa Clara and Bayard well fields. "We had a hydrology study done, which shows the two municipalities would benefit. We want to make sure our projects are included in the overall plan."

Commissioner Ron Hall said: "This resolution in no way proposes piping water to Deming or Las Cruces."

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, who was in attendance via conference call, pointed out the water in the proposed Deming project could be pulled only when there were excess floodwaters. People have been scaring others saying the river would be dried up."

At that point, a man began shouting that those in attendance wanted public input. When Commissioner Chairman Brett Kasten asked that Sheriff's deputies remove the man, the crowd began to boo loudly.

Hall moved to approve the resolution and Ramos "proudly" seconded it.

To a request for people to hear the resolution, Saari read the last Whereas, and the Now, Therefore Be It Resolved sections.

Kasten relented and allowed a limited amount of public input, with three-minute limits on each person.

A resident of Indian Hills said he has been "fighting this stuff for 25 years," as president of water companies in Hawaii and California. "The important thing to consider is that there is nothing to prevent making the county the third poorest in the state.  This is just an interbasin transfer. We still do not have any talk for a wild and scenic river designation for the Gila River. We still have a wilderness in the county and we must keep the Gila where it belongs."

Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance executive director, said there was confusion because "it is our understanding the Southwest New Mexico Regional Water Supply Project is indeed a diversion to Deming, including Silver City and the Mining District. We don't know what the project is."

She began to read from a prepared statement: "We are very concerned a diversion will cause harm to the Gila riparian areas. A recent report created by an ISC contracted consultant, S.S. Papadopulos, said a diversion is estimated to cause hydrologic changes to small floods and high-flow pulses that are critical to maintaining the Gila River's ecological system. … And the harm will occur when water is diverted at relatively low flows, not during the huge floods. The majority of the water would be diverted during pretty low flows."

She said the report used Gila River flow data from 1937 through 2001, "before this current drought began, not to mention climate change. Even during this time of higher flows, the consultant's conclusions are bad news. Shouldn't we err on the side of caution instead of gambling with our future?"

Todd Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity read from a prepared statement about "some things you need to know," but extemporized many of his comments.

"If you inject water into the aquifer, the taxpayers will have to pay the bill," he said. "This is not New Mexico water. It is Central Arizona Project water to replace Gila River water we used that is owned by the Gila River Indian Community."

He warned that by the time a diversion might be built, the costs of the water are estimated to rise to over $2 million each and every year.

Schulke it looks like Mangus Creek (also variously spelled Mangas Creek) "has emerged as the preferred reservoir site for storing Gila River water. "Mangus Creek is one of the last source-population areas for the Loach Minnow and Spike Dace, that were just uplisted to endangered status. The OSE has suggested that simple mitigation would suffice, but Mangus Creek is too critical to the recovery of these fish to allow it to be filled by a dam."

"We have $66 million to fix everybody's water problems," Schulke said. "We should do that."

The next speaker was Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition executive director.

"The AWSA decision on whether or not to use Gila River water has tremendous implications for the Gila River, our regional economy, to taxpayers and the cost of our water," Siwik read from a statement prepared before the meeting. "I am very concerned that you are all feeling pressured to support the extremely expensive and environmentally damaging Deming diversion/pipeline project before you have complete information upon which to base a sound decision, and you are making this decision to support the project outside of the public eye, and out of an open, transparent process.

"At your last commission meeting on Feb. 21, we strongly encouraged you to discuss and debate the merits of the decision before you in a public meeting. …Citizens deserve your respect," she continued. "I am extremely disappointed to have learned through an Inspection of Public Records Act request that Grant County commissioners have had meetings with ISC and (Office of the State Engineer) officials that have not been open to the public to discuss diversion projects under the AWSA. These actions seriously undermine the public's trust in your abilities to represent all Grant County residents.

"We want you to consider cost-effective, non-diversion alternatives that secure our water future at low cost and keep the Gila River flowing," Siwik read. "We support common-sense alternatives, such as the Grant County Regional Water Supply Project to benefit 26,000 residents; water reuse projects in Deming, Bayard and Silver City, and municipal and agricultural conservation. We want you to publicly discuss these options."

Kyle Johnson of Gila-Mimbres Community Radio said: "Water is not the issue. The issue is the subversion of process and the undermining of this body. Ten years of public process within the past few months have gone wildly awry. I think you're discussing something you have not seen," he alleged. "I also believe you should reconsider your membership in the Southwest County Commission Alliance. I would like to see a resolution limiting the SWCCA. I don't recall taking water out of the Rio Grande, so it is not our problem. The state is looking at us to fix the problem. Another issue is that the Copper Rule was subverted by men like yourselves."

Kasten cut him off and said that was not the topic of discussion.

The rest of the meeting will be covered in subsequent article(s).


Live from Silver City

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