By Mary Alice Murphy
Gabriel Ramos, representing Grant County, has replaced, as chairman of the commission, Alex Brown, Silver City town manager, who has handed his role representing the town to James Marshall, assistant town manager.
Ramos said the main topic of discussion for the day was to hear opportunities for the remaining phases of the Grant County Regional Water Project, which will bring water to Hurley, and in the future, additional water as needed to Bayard, Santa Clara and on to Arenas Valley, Silver City and Tyrone.
Kathy Pfiffner, USDA Rural Development program director, said she and Sandra Alarcon, USDA loan specialist out of the Las Cruces office, "popped by Priscilla (Lucero)'s office one day. We wanted to find out more about the water loop to include all the Grant County municipalities. We wondered why wouldn't the Grant County Water Commission own the whole thing."
"At first, I thought we were talking about Phase I to get water to Hurley," Lucero said. "My reasoning was that we already had momentum going with the Interstate Stream Commission and Colonias funding, plus what Hurley has received.
"They asked me how much the additional phases, Phase II and phases III and IV would cost," Lucero continued. "I told them $11 million to $12 million, including the Phase IB, which is the secondary well and solar power. Kathy asked: 'Why not do the whole thing?'"
Ramos asked if it would be possible to approach the ISC.
Lucero said one of the ISC commissioners understood this. "He had begun to see us getting momentum. Then things started to fizzle. I couldn't do it on my own. I had to have a Hurley representative there, and I didn't at that time. To me it makes sense, but I'm not that familiar and comfortable with the Arizona Water Settlements Act."
Esther Gil, Hurley councilwoman, asked if the ISC funds could be frozen. Lucero said no, because an agreement is already underway. "It's working toward the rest of the funding."
Gary Berg of Occam Engineers, formerly Engineers Inc., has worked on this project since its inception. "We have the design for construction of the 40,000-foot pipeline from the airport water rights (which Silver City transferred to Hurley) to the Hurley booster station and the tanks. It has been approved by the Drinking Water Bureau. The second part is a 200-foot deep secondary well for a cost of about $1.8 million in Phase IB. Phase IA was a single well and the pipeline to Hurley at a cost of about $8 million. Phase IB is the secondary water source."
Lucero said Phase IA was about $7.7 million, IB, about $1.2 million and IC for the solar panels about $840,000. She said continuing the line to Bayard would cost about $4.2 million and to Santa Clara, $1.9 million, and to Racetrack Road and U.S. 180 about $1.7 million.
Pfiffner said it was a giant water loop that will benefit the whole region. Each portion was going to be funded by each entity. "Why doesn't the Grant County Water Commission own the whole thing?"
Marshall said one issue that caused the commission to set it up with each entity funding its own portion was because of the different demographics. Silver City has a population of more than 10,000, which makes it ineligible for some of the funding.
Pfiffner said Silver City could own the whole thing, because it serves the rural area. Lucero clarified that if Silver City wanted to apply, it could but only for the areas outside the city limits.
Bayard Mayor Charles Kelly said there are a lot of people who don't like one entity owning all the water. Pfiffner said: "But you have buy-in on this commission by all the entities."
Lucero said: "To date, there has been $19 million of investment into distribution lines in and by local governments and mutual domestics (mutual domestic water associations). If you feel you can do it or if Silver City wants to take the lead on this water commission, either way will work."
Pfiffner said: "If we do seven different projects, it will require 14 underwriting actions. If one project, it will require two underwriting actions. You should do it one way from the beginning. It also qualifies for Colonias funding. For loans, we determine how much loan and how much grant each entity qualifies for. We can make one big package if you don't get other funding."
Alarcon said it was like the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant agreements.
Kelly noted that each entity has its own water source and will continue to use "our own. But some years, we need supplemental water. That's why Bayard thinks this is a good idea."
Pfiffner said each entity should continue to use its own water rights. "Typically, there's a master meter where the water joins into your system. When you tap into it, you pay for what you take."
"We would construct controls in the system, so as Bayard or Santa Clara requests water, it would be delivered to their tanks," Berg said.
Ramos asked about putting in the infrastructure. "We won't have money from charging if we don't use the water."
Pfiffner said each entity would determine the payment it could afford.
"My understanding is that even when we're not using the water, everyone would pay a fee for the operations and maintenance and if we use it, we get charged," Kelly said.
Berg said someone would be patrolling the infrastructure to make sure it was OK. "It's in your best interest to run a little bit of water through the line once a week or every two weeks. It's better to use it and keep it moving."
Lucero said there are a couple of assumptions. "Santa Clara will go to the USDA because it needs to expand its system. If we do that with all the communities, we will have increased the debt more than if it's a consolidated effort."
Pfiffner agreed and said it was cheaper to build it all at one time.
"If the water commission owned it, it wouldn't increase each group's debt?" Kelly asked.
Alarcon said as part of the application each entity would have to determine its own rates.
Pfiffner said: "We'll tell you the answer and you'll have to figure out how to pay for it."
Lucero said the first decision is to determine who will own the system and then a joint powers agreement will have to follow.
Pfiffner said another JPA wouldn't be necessary because the commission is already an entity under a JPA.
"In a perfect world, we would have the PER (preliminary engineering report) in when we apply," Lucero said.
Pfiffner said the next fiscal year would be perfect for the application. "I have no qualms about using my Colonias pot of money on one project. This serves more people than a bunch of little projects. For the smaller projects, it's easier to get money from the pool of funding that reverts when it has been unused. I'd rather put my money on one big project. We'll assume you get the whole package. If you don't get other funding, we'll underwrite it with left-over funding. My other strategy is to let me fund you and then you go after the little bits. I think the state will fund the little bits."
Marshall asked if it mattered if the actual wet water is a credit the state has given the town for its recharge.
"I would need to see the contract," Pfiffner said.
Marshall also said the JPA for the water commission is about 10 years old and might need some adjusting if the water commission decides to own the project. "We'll need staff. We have to have the capacity to operate it. A clause in the JPA says every decision has to be unanimous or it fails. You can't run a business that way."
Pfiffner said the group must have a way to run it or "be working on the authority for it."
Lucero asked what the timeline was for the application.
"The environmental assessment will have to cover the whole thing," Pfiffner said.
"What is the latest date?" Lucero asked.
"It doesn't hurt to put in for it this fiscal year," Pfiffner said. "You might get reverted money, but it may have to wait until next year. I would say June."
Lucero said she likes April.
"Let's go back and talk to our councils," Ramos said. "Time is of the essence."
To a question about how much the water commission can get, Pfiffner said: "You won't know how much until you apply."
Marshall asked if the water could be isolated from the other systems. Berg said, at each connection, it would be valved and would enter the municipality's system only when requested. "You said you don't want to give up your systems. Hurley has its own tanks and distribution. So do Bayard and Santa Clara. We can maneuver through the process. We will have to deviate for Arenas Valley, because it has no tanks. It would mix this water and Silver City water. The main line would have a T that can be opened to fill the tanks. It will all be metered."
Berg said the water would be chlorinated for the first time at the well. Then it's uphill to Bayard and Santa Clara, "so we need booster stations. We could also chlorinate there. We need to make sure the water in the line is chlorinated so it's easy to operate. What I want to install in Hurley is a pellet system. They are unique pellets with a two-year shelf life."
Ramos said the next steps are for the water commission members to review the JPA and go back to their boards to make the water commission the owner of the water system
Lucero said at the next meeting, the water commission will vote on it, then the application can be done to determine the costs.
Ramos requested the meetings change to the third Wednesday instead of the third Thursday. All present agreed it would work. The next meeting will take place on Dec. 20 at the Santa Clara Village Hall.
Berg noted that at the recent Interim Legislative Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting, Anthony Gutierrez, New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity executive director, was asked for a copy of the Regional Water Project PER. "I delivered it with a PDF of the 2014 transmission PER and the 2016 PER."
Chon Fierro, Bayard city councilor, asked about Arenas Valley. Berg said the transmission would go the back way. "We would go on 180 to Bayard and at Bayard, we will go cross-country to the Bayard tanks and west to Santa Clara and Arenas Valley."