Editor's Note: This is the final article in a two-part series on the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission deliberations on a resolution.
Anthony Gutierrez said the Interstate Stream Commission has received amended proposals, with 16 potential projects. "I don't think the governments don't want a regional project to benefit everyone. Does the ISC start looking at the feasibility and the economic impacts, as well as the others?"
"We also received the Deming amended reuse project; an amended Gila Conservation Coalition proposal for municipal conservation; an amended one from Hidalgo County for storage near the state line; and a big amended one from Catron County because of last year's fire," Interstate Stream Commission Deputy Director Craig Roepke said. "We will look at the original 16, including the five amended ones, including the pipeline to Deming. Eleven are original and five amended. Those 16 will be put through the same process. "
He explained the ISC must notify the U.S. Secretary of the Interior by Dec. 31, 2014. if New Mexico wishes to develop the water. "If we do not develop the water, we forfeit $62 million and the future use of the water."
Alex Thal, representing Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, asked if a contract were made for only 5,000 acre-feet, would the other 5,000 be forfeited.
"I think people have planned for 10,000 acre-feet from the Gila," Roepke said. "There is no proposal to divert any water off the San Francisco, so potentially, 14,000 acre-feet could be taken off the Gila, but it would be environmentally difficult. Legally, New Mexico could continue to try to get the additional water, but it would be difficult politically and the funding would not be there. To be honest and frank, we need to know what people are going to do with the water before the next legislative session. There is no sentiment anywhere in the Legislature that anybody in New Mexico is willing to forfeit the water."
Jerry Juarez, representing Columbus, said his village would approve what the ISC wants to do.
Gutierrez asked if, for instance, Grant County contracted for 5,000 acre-feet, could another contract for the other 5,000 or 9,000 acre feet. "Could anyone outside the area contract for that water?"
"Yes," Roepke said.
Jim Massengill of Luna Soil and Water Conservation District made a motion to table the issue or fill in the blanks on the resolution, "since we don't have a document we can support."
Thal said the board has come to consensus on securing the 14,000 acre-feet of water for now and future generations and to keep it in the four-county area.
A resolution, written by Thal, was also considered by the commission. He said the intent of the resolution was to show that the GSFWC is the only entity mentioned in the AWSA, as being the successor to the Southwest New Mexico Water Planning Group, talked about in the Act. "I see a responsibility to specify how this commission will work with the ISC, not just as another private or public group, and how closely this commission would like to work with the ISC."
"I'm a little lost," Roepke said. "Are you looking for the ISC to enter into an agreement and if a regional water authority were established, it would have to go through the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission?"
"No, just an agreement on 212(i) of the Act, with no formal agreement," Thal said.
"When we were still negotiating the AWSA, Arizona made an effective claim that no entity in New Mexico was interested in talking about this water," Roepke said. "So we formed the Southwest New Mexico Water Planning Group, which we hoped would begin discussion on how to develop the water. It occurred in some part, but not a whole lot. The past state administration had its own ideas. If this group wants to do what its joint powers agreement says, I'm unclear about what another agreement between the commission and the ISC would provide."
Roepke said the ISC has committed to consulting with the GSFWC, as established in federal law. "The ISC is considering your rankings of the proposals. We're here to answer questions. If there is something this commission wants to talk about, we will try to accommodate you. The ISC has statutory authorities and can't abdicate them. The ISC has worked hard to make sure the process is open and totally inclusive in the process. I think we cannot modify the timeline."
Thal said he is trying to keep anyone from undermining the GSFWC, as was done with the previous administration, and "because of how protracted this process has been. Grant Soil and Water Conservation District has problems with the Input Group taking over what we are legally supposed to do. Instead private interest groups are saying they represent southwest New Mexico."
"We want to make sure we are recognized," Lee said. "In the 10 plus years, every time we wanted to express something, we have been heard." He suggested a smaller group to come up with something. Thal, Diaz, Lee, Gutierrez and Bates volunteered.
Roepke said he would offer that if this body enumerates changes, "we would be willing to discuss it and accommodate them, if possible. I will emphasize the Input Group has no authority. Its only function is to provide input or assessment of various projects. It has no decision-making authority at all. It is not replacing the GSFWC or the ISC requirement to work with this group."
Deming City Manager Richard McInturff had the correct resolution sent to Gutierrez, who copied it and handed it out to the commission members. "I am asking for your indulgence. There is no letter of support, as it says on the agenda. We didn't ask for a letter of support. We were asking for the resolution."
Gutierrez pointed out the group could not vote on something it had not seen until that moment. Diaz agreed to withdraw his motion and the second was also withdrawn. The resolution was tabled and placed on next month's agenda.
"It has to be your resolution," McInturff said. "We're looking for unanimous support, but consensus on the main points."
Commission member Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, recommended to Chairman Tom Bates that the resolution be sent out to members before the meeting, so they could review it.
In old business, Gutierrez said the next Input Group meeting would be April 15, with a public meeting in the evening.
Bates said he wanted to call on Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance director, who had been in attendance at most of the meeting, because those who spoke at a Grant County Commission special meeting were so passionate about wanting to leave the water in the Gila River. "I wonder how, in their opinion, they may accomplish such a result."
Lee asked if their comments come from a standpoint of not understanding the Arizona Water Settlements Act or if the speakers were up to date on information.
Thal said some private groups want to keep water in the river, but "I suggest there are just as many who don't want the water to go to Texas or Arizona. If the water leaves the state in the river, it goes to the Gulf of California. More important is whether to keep the water here or it will leave the area to another part of New Mexico."
Bates said: "It was sad the county commissioners took such abuse. The balance is economic development. There is no doubt water is precious and of tremendous value. We're all trying to do the best for our constituents. There is no maliciousness intended."
Luna County Commissioner Javier Diaz said New Mexico government would extract the water. "Do we want to keep it here? We need to decide the best interests of the area."
Lee said the group has made "stabs at putting out an educational brochure. Is it time to do it again?"
"Yes," Bates said.
He spoke to Grant County Commissioner Ron Hall who was in the audience. "It was unfair the way you were treated. You're trying to keep the community's best interests at heart. Las Cruces thinks it can get the water by taking the decision away from the ISC and giving it to the Legislature. (Sen. John Arthur) Smith has made it clear that if we don't take the water, it will go to Las Cruces."
Hall said transparency to the public is so important. "I had a young person email me, asking: 'What's this about building a dam across the Gila?' That is not what we are going to do. Education is so important. If we're in the dark, we become suspicious."
Donnie Stailey, representing the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission, said his understanding is that the ISC is funded and controlled by the state. "We have had a terrible drought. Our projects have been amended and sent back. The drought is projected to continue for at least another year. It sets a precedent to see the government showing interest in the water. Do we trust the water will stay here? I don't. I think we should get the projects done before there are any more amendments."
Thal said: "Part and parcel of transparency is hearing from the public. I suggest we rotate meeting locations."
Dominguez said the meetings are recorded only in Silver City. Thal pointed out that Community Access Television of Silver City showing the videos does not benefit Cruzville or Columbus.
The next meeting will take place Tuesday, April 16, at 9 a.m. at the Grant County Administration Center.