At the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission meeting in Gila, Wednesday, March 20, Mary Reece of the Phoenix office of the U.S.Bureau of Reclamation, gave the "big picture."
"Reclamation represents the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the Arizona Water Settlements Act," Reece said. "We are actively doing data collection and analysis for the Tier II proposals. We are doing economic analyses on the specific diversion projects, as they have been amended. The Interstate Stream Commission provided us with the scenarios to look at. Today, Jeff Riley, Mike Miller, regional geologist, and I did a follow up site visit in the Gila Valley. We took pictures and did elevations, which will go into the appraisal level done for the ISC."
Topper Thorpe, Interstate Stream commissioner, living in the Gila Valley, the resolution the GBIC would consider later in the meeting, related to projects the ISC would be reviewing at its meeting on March 27.
"There's not much to report," Thorpe said. "We had a meeting with Senator John Arthur Smith to discuss his capital outlay request for $25 million to shift 10,000 acre-feet of Gila River water to Las Cruces. It raised some eyebrows and a lot has been done since then. What he basically told us is: 'I did this because you've been working on this for nearly 10 years and nothing has happened. If it doesn't happen, I will propose legislation next year to send the water to Las Cruces.
"The fact of the matter, it's where it is," Thorpe continued. "The process has moved forward to where we have projects. The ISC and Reclamation are both working. I know the ISC wants to move as fast as possible, but we need to do it in the proper manner and do the best we can do."
He said the resolution to be considered by the GBIC is not the same as the ones passed by municipalities and counties. It is modified to fit GBIC needs.
David Ogilvie, GBIC chairman, said the next AWSA Input Group would meet on April 15, with the quarterly public input meeting in the evening. "I think the new twist will be the topic of a lot of discussion."
Don Stailey, GBIC member, who represented the group at the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting the day before, said the discussion was mainly whether to allow a pipeline to carry water to Deming. "It didn't get to a vote, because the issue was not on the agenda in the correct form."
Ogilvie said the discussion led to a lot of different entities saying every group has things in the resolution they want to tweak.
Linda Stailey said she believed if the water went to Deming, it would detract from the GBIC proposal.
"The intent is to combine projects," Ogilvie said. "The Deming proposal takes into consideration the four-county area. Its significance is that it could tie in more projects. I have reservations about the size of the pipeline, because it does open the door to Las Cruces."
"I don't see how a diversion on the Mangas will benefit us," Linda Stailey said.
"The small one on Mogollon Creek will benefit Gila Valley irrigation," Ogilvie said. "I want to add to the Deming proposal to give the four counties something, so they all get on board, if we can get the concept approved."
In the resolution to be considered, Thorpe said he put in the revised resolution, no reference to the Deming project or pipeline. "It addresses storage to use water in the region. I think there is some flexibility on how to provide an 'adequate and dependable supply of water.'"
Allen Campbell, GBIC member, said he had crunched the numbers. "To move that much water to Las Cruces would require a 30-inch pipeline. I'm not objecting to this water going to Las Cruces, but the potential disturbance of our own economic situation is so great. It's kind of like the camel getting more into the tent. I talked to folks in Las Cruces, and they asked: 'When are we going to get this Gila River water?'"
He said he liked the GBIC resolution, because no one can say the group is approving the pipeline.
"We irrigators are the closest to being able to absorb this water," Campbell said. "The reason for the AWSA was to make the agricultural community whole. If we can't get this going, we have to step aside for the state, but only if the counties can't get it done."
Mary Burton Riseley, Gila Valley resident, during consideration of the resolution, asked about one section. "How is it going to benefit Luna and Hidalgo counties, without expensive conveyance structures?"
Thorpe said: "Maybe there would be a canal."
Burton Riseley asked who wrote the original resolution.
Ogilvie said it was done by Luna County, in consultation with Daniel B. Stephens and Associates. "I know the intent of the resolution coming from our body is Luna County and Deming seeking support to circumvent the water going to Las Cruces. We represent our constituents—all the irrigators in the valley—while keeping in mind that we have a proposal and that is first and foremost. We have always said we wanted to get the water secured. I think it is important we support this, but keep it generic enough that it doesn't bind us."
Burton Riseley said the current cost of the water, as she understands it, is $211 an acre-foot. "Who is going to pay for it?"
"Maybe some economic analysis will help," Ogilvie said.
"We're looking at cost-benefit and economic impacts," Reece said. "I'm not sure that answers your question. When the Central Arizona Project was happening, the same question was asked, and now people are lining up to buy it. They do sub-contracts with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District for the CAP water."
"It's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing," Thorpe said. "If we knew we would have a stable sustainable source of water, we would consider other crops. That would make the water almost free, but we have to know we will have water. I wouldn't plant an expensive crop, if I were going to watch it die. Maybe the counties and municipalities will buy in and pay for it, but not use it. We have to look a long way down the way. Water costs are going to go up, whether it's CAP or our own water."
Merritt Hellferich, Box Canyon Road resident, pointed out the resolution mentioned the Gila and San Francisco rivers, but nothing else in the resolution mentions the San Francisco.
"It encompasses the whole 14,000 (annual average) acre-feet," Thorpe said. "As I understand it, it is a total of 14,000 acre-feet with 4,000 allocated to the San Francisco. If the San Francisco Basin does not use it, it will be added to the 10,000 from the Gila."
Reece pointed out that the Act says it is 140,000 acre-feet of water over a 10-year period. "The Consumptive Use and Forbearance Act outlines the condition that have to be met to withdraw the water."
Ogilvie said the withdrawal can only be done when the water flow is over the mean—not necessarily flooding, and no more than 350 cubic feet a second at a time.
"If we are still bickering," he pointed out, "John Arthur Smith will step in with his legislation."
"If we don't take it, it's gone," Don Stailey said.
Reece said if the water goes to Las Cruces, it is going to El Paso, Texas. "So it's either going to Texas or Arizona."
The resolution was approved with one nay by Burton Riseley.
The rest of the meeting will be covered in a subsequent article.