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[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a multi-part series of articles on the about three-hour long meeting of the NM CAP Entity held on Dec. 5, 2017.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

Before the members of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity got into the major topics of the meeting held on Dec. 5, 2017, several people gave public input.

The first to give input was Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition executive director. "Today the CAP Entity will finalize their transaction letter to the Bureau of Reclamation to begin the NEPA process. As I have said before, there is an utter lack of fairness of using all of the dollars to benefit only a few."

She said there are $42 million worth of "meritorious" water projects in the four counties waiting to be funded. She said members of the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee at their recent meeting reacted negatively to the report from CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez.

Siwik said Rep. Gomez of Doña Ana County said the report "scares me." He said, according to Siwik, that it doesn't make sense to spend $73,000 an acre at a cost of at least $500 per acre foot per year.

She also encouraged Gutierrez to use the actual exchanges cost of the water instead of the lower cost that keeps being used. "For 2017, it's $164 per acre foot; by 2022, it will be $167 an acre foot. That's above what is being put forth by the CAP Entity. Communities are vying for Water Trust Board funding, but projects in Columbus and Luna County could use AWSA funding. Deming and Lordsburg get nothing from the proposed action. Committee Chairman Cervantes said he was heart-broken. I am, too, for those not likely to get the $42 million in funding. The Grant County Water Commission needs only $10 million to complete the Regional Water Project. Does the CAP Entity want to squander $100 million for a few farmers and ranchers, including a huge corporation, and destroy New Mexico's last free-flowing river?"

Ron Tory, county resident, said in a prior meeting he mentioned the lack of diversity of the board. "I don't know a lot about this project, but it scares me. I sat on a board in Idaho. We wouldn't let the Bureau of Reclamation design a project, because it was all concrete and rebar. That is archaic. It's gonna get us sued because there is no diversity on this board. You aren't getting the input you need. You need Fish and Wildlife, the Gila Conservation Coalition. Go and learn from other projects, such as ours in Idaho. You would be astounded."

Peter Russell, a resident with a small farm in the Upper Gila Valley, addressed the issue of water storage. "You don't need most of the water in the winter. If you diverted 15 cfs (cubic feet per second) you could meet the 2,300 acre-feet of storage, with 5 cfs from each ditch for a month."

He said running the ditches at 10 cfs every day exceeds the 2,300 acre-feet. "It provides the flows, it can be stored free of charge."

Vance Lee, entity member representing Hidalgo County, said he saw no item on the agenda where his comments would fit, so he was making public comment.

"I would like for us to consider a performance evaluation plan for our executive director," Lee said. "We can help do some goal setting, so he knows what we expect. I would like for us to think about it. And maybe an agenda item, toward the bottom, could give a place for membership input."

Allen Campbell, representing the Gila Hot Springs Ditch Association, said he echoed Lee's comment. "It's spot on. If we have a meeting that involved discussion with Anthony, it should be closed because it is a personnel issue."

Entity Chairwoman Darr Shannon agreed that it would be an executive session for the evaluation of the executive director."

Later in the meeting, Gutierrez noted that he had previously asked for such an evaluation to help him know what the members wanted him to do.

Gutierrez then addressed the first item of old business, which was the amended proposed action of the New Mexico Unit for action or no action.

"This is the draft of the letter to send to Reclamation," Gutierrez said. "There is no Phase II in this letter, no full build out on Winn Canyon. There is still some confusion on Weedy Canyon on the San Francisco Project and removal of $900,000 for ditch improvements. I want to make sure we're clear on the San Francisco part."

Howard Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District asked for some changes in item two under the San Francisco River. He asked that the language of the first sentence be changed to "Construction of 6,750 linear feet of 4X4 box culvert or, alternatively a pipeline of the same length, to connect to existing irrigation infrastructure [added}and the delivery point for future storage facilities."

Van "Bucky" Allred, representing Catron County noted that Weedy Canyon was the choice of name by AECOM. "It's really no-name canyon. Do we need to recognize it as unnamed or name it? I also want to point out to the board that this diversion would circumvent a pushup diversion. It services two irrigation ditches and crosses another canyon. We were assured a pipeline could be built underneath where it crosses. The diversion would hold 2,000 acre-feet. The idea is to stop pushing up the diversion. We're trying to improve the river, while storing water for drought. We are trying to stay within the budget, but in the future, we would like to store all of our 4,000 acre-feet."

Campbell suggested using the word conveyance rather than specifying a culvert or pipeline.

Gutierrez said from the NEPA viewpoint, "we have to determine facilities and have a design. I assume NEPA will want clarification."

Entity Attorney Pete Domenici Jr. said he thinks NEPA will want to study the specifics, which are in other presentations. He suggested adding "future storage facility as studies" or "future storage in adjacent canyons."

"NEPA should consider and we should have it in the plan, that we intend to capture the full 4,000 acre feet in the San Francisco," Hutchinson said. "This is the diversion and conveyance to the point of storage. The conveyance system is designed to remove 4,000 acre-feet during high flows. If we were to consider a future dam, it would require a supplemental NEPA. I don't see a problem with this as our proposed action now, and I don't see a problem with a supplemental NEPA in the future."

Gutierrez said he didn't want to leave diversion and conveyance open to cause future NEPA problems. "We have the statement potential future projects. I'm not sure that is acceptable."

"This is a draft," he continued. "We will have more discussion with the Interstate Stream Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation after approval of this draft."

Gutierrez said potentially AWSA water could be diverted into the irrigation facilities.

Hutchinson said the NEPA process has a scoping process prior to the draft EIS. That would allow for additional language and issues to be added. "The joint lead agencies (ISC and Reclamation) would have comments. During the scoping and pre-scoping, other entities could come forward with other alternatives."

"We need to be diligent during the scoping," Domenici said. "Maybe these two San Francisco projects may need more studies. These two discrete items can be studied."

"One of my fears," Hutchinson said, "is that if we don't put in the foreseeable storage. It has to be analyzed in NEPA."

He said his focus is on the San Francisco, but as a member of the board, "I think the folks on the Gila need to look at full build-out on Winn or other storage. I think we would be remiss in not having the concept included. I think the exchange at the Interim Water and Natural Resources meeting brought negative feedback. We are looking at diverting and utilizing the full 10,000 acre-feet on the Gila to Winn or another facility."

Shannon asked if the name Weedy should be kept. Hutchinson said if a storage is developed it could be named whatever.

Gutierrez said the language should be added to the letter as Weedy is the name used by AECOM in its report.

Lee requested corrections in the section on the Virden Valley. "The 20-acre site is not on the north side of the river. It's on the south side, and the smaller one is on the north side."

He clarified the issue on ditch improvements. The ISC allocated $200,000 for two ditches, the Sunset and New Model. "Sunset gave its portion to New Model and stated the allocation has nothing to do with Sunset."

Campbell commented on the costs. "I have a real problem with aquifer storage recharge. Direct pumping with a low-head pump out of the on-farm ponds or ditch would be more efficient cost-wise. We're looking at $338 an acre foot. If we stored 600 acre feet, that would irrigate 200 acres at the current allocation of 2.9 acre-feet of water per acre. The costs from aquifer recovery are not acceptable to me. Also, there is no infrastructure to allow us to put water to higher use. We need a business plan that includes costs."

Ty Bays, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District said: "Whether it costs $300 to $500 an acre-foot, it's up to the user to pay. Each water right is worth $10,000 to $15,000, so we are better off leasing the water. This is an affordable option to buying a water right."

Campbell said he could not afford to water pastures with these costs. "If I had to buy water, I would buy hay. The higher cost would be for those with truck farms, vineyards or orchards. And I don't think it's a good option to pump from ASR. This water is so expensive, the only thing you can do with it is put it in single-malt Scotch."

Shannon brought everyone back to the discussion on the letter.

"This letter was taken from the motion made last month," Gutierrez said.

Shannon asked the members if the letter was OK to present to Reclamation.

Bays moved to accept the letter as amended by Hutchinson and Lee as the draft to send to Reclamation. It was approved with Campbell voting no.

ISC Attorney Dominque Work attended by phone and asked that a copy be sent to ISC at the same time as it is sent to Reclamation.

The rest of the meeting will be covered in future articles.

Live from Silver City

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