[Editor's Note: This is part 2 and the final article on the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity meeting on Feb. 6, 2018.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
After a presentation and discussion at the beginning of a regular meeting of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity on Feb. 6, 2018, public comment was heard.
The first to speak was resident Janet Wallet-Ortiz, who said she has lived in Silver City for more than 30 years. She said the Legislature killed two memorials. "I'm thrilled about that. They were memorials supporting the diversion of the Gila River. I'm excited that the legislators want to keep the Gila free-flowing." She then read verbatim a number of comments from representatives and senators from large municipalities bragging about killing the memorials. "Take the advice of the legislators and quit wasting money and time on a project."
Chairwoman Darr Shannon said she normally does not respond to public comment, but, she said: "Most of the people you just talked about and quoted don't have the faintest idea of what we're trying to do."
Next to speak was Craig Roepke, retired Gila Basin manager for the ISC.
"I want to state from the outset that I have not seen your preferred action or any recent engineering reports," Roepke said. "I've stayed away from it. I say that for a sole purpose. I don't want Mr. Gaume, Allyson (Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition) or Todd (Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity) to deluge you with IPRA requests."
He said he didn't have to know anything about the presentation Gaume had just given, but "it was just sad to start off with the calculations of usable water. I think Mr. Bays and perhaps Mr. Runyan, I couldn't hear it all, said if you have storage, you can store, convey and irrigate with that water, much more efficiently than you're doing right now. Those calculations are meaningless and useless. Mr. Gaume might have a point about high costs. I would like to bring attention to the citizens here and the citizens of Grant County and southwest New Mexico. If I heard Mr. (Jeff) Riley (of the Phoenix Office of the Bureau of Reclamation) correctly, the farmers in Arizona are paying about half. You should also bear in mind that in the Arizona Water Settlements Act, Arizona got the price of $1.6 billion it had to pay back for the Central Arizona Project. As I recall, in 2004, the full cost was $6.9 billion. If they can give that to Phoenix and Tucson, I think they can give a little break on operating costs to small farmers here in New Mexico. The thing that really shocked me in this was Norm's complete misunderstanding of the utility and functionality of the New Mexico Unit. It's not meant to provide a full supply of water needs. He says it can for 58 days. If the river is dry, as it was in 2013, 20 cfs would make one big difference. It could be left in the river; it could perhaps be put on a crop; it could perhaps preserve a crop rather than letting it die for lack of water. That is the utility, the benefit, of storing water when you have an abundance, so you can draw upon it when you have to. It could really mitigate the situation in times of drought."
He continued: "Andi f you would look at the fields in the Gila Valley and in the Virden Valley in 2012 and 2013, you would have seen a lot of fallow fields. This water would really mitigate that. And it's not just for the farmers. If you could keep 3 cfs in the Upper Gila Valley, instead of letting it go bone dry, it would do wonders for the ecology. The ISC has already provided documentation and studies for that. If you're an environmentalist, I suggest you go walking in a dry river and see the standing stagnant pools. Ask yourself, what would 5 cfs do? It would do lots to help the ecology."
"This presentation flummoxed me," Roepke said. "I worked with Norm, and he was good. This is incompetent. It puzzles me. He hired me in 2004 in April. In the fall of that year, I found out about the 18,000 acre-feet that had been allocated to this area. I went and asked him why we had never done anything with it. He said: 'I don't think we can.' I asked him if he minded if I took a stab at it. He told me to go do it, and we did. Phoenix talked to Reclamation. We briefed the Interstate Stream Commission on two or three occasions and how the Arizona Water Settlements Act could benefit us. You won't find that in the minutes, because Norm did them in closed session. And then Norm was let go with the change in administration. It often happens. We went through it and actually got the New Mexico part of the Arizona Water Settlements Act into law for 14,000 acre-feet. We gave up some. We got some money, then we started doing some studies. We've done a lot of studies. Some people say we've done too many studies. That may be; I don't know, but we were really being careful. One day, a couple of years ago, Norm came to my house. He came in and said: 'Just wanted to tell you, Craig, I'm going to work for Allyson and Steve Harris, head of the Rio Grande Restoration, and I'm going to oppose the New Mexico Unit. I'm going to do everything I can to kill it.'
"It kind of shocked me," Roepke said. "After that time, we briefed him several times, telling him what we were doing and what we were thinking of in concepts and so forth. One time, he was in my office and he said: 'You know, Craig, I never thought you would get that settlement.'"
Roepke said, last year, he found out that in the late '90s, before Gaume hired him and "before he told me to try to get this done, he met with people from Arizona who wanted to get a New Mexico Unit going and he told them: 'No, we don't want any part of it.' So, it doesn't surprise me that he met with Senator Domenici and said: 'All we want is the money.' When I met with Senator Domenici and with Senator Bingaman, I told Bingaman, we might be able to give way on a little of the water to get Arizona to agree to the agreement. He didn't let me finish. Senator Bingaman's words were: 'Craig, you hold your powder on that. You keep every drop of water we can.' We, several of us from ISC, went back to Washington, later met with Senator Domenici's staff and with the senator and heard even more. So, I don't know why this presentation is so confused. Maybe he's confused. Apparently before Norm was against this, he didn't think it would happen. And before he didn't think it was going to happen, he was for it. But before he was for it, he was against it."
"That's all I can shed on this," Roepke concluded. "I wouldn't pay much attention to this. I'm supposed to be down in the Bootheel running around with my puppies. I can tell you I timed it, and I wasted 45 minutes listening to this presentation and so did you and everyone else in this room. Thank you, Madame Chairwoman."
Ty Bays, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, asked Roepke: "Mr. Roepke, I earlier asked Mr. Gaume if he had worked for any entity here. You said he had worked for Allyson. Would that be GRIP (Gila Resource Information Project)?"
Roepke said he didn't know what financial arrangements Allyson had with Mr. Gaume.
[Editor's Note: As reported in part one of the report on this meeting at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/42098-corrected-nm-cap-entity-hears-and-discusses-presentation-020618 , Norm Gaume in a follow up email to members and others, he admitted he had been paid in 2014 for opposing a diversion in an arrangement with the Gila Conservation Coalition, of which Siwik is also the executive director, in addition to directing GRIP.]
The next item on the agenda was to address the old business of additional amendments to the proposed action, considering storage and conveyance components on the San Francisco River and in the Virden Valley.
NM CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez said he had met with Reclamation. "They expressed a concern about a portion of the San Francisco, which has no storage. We need to clarify it in the proposed action."
Gutierrez said he didn't have with him the scope of work with Occam Engineers on the San Francisco, but he knew they had looked at the area. "Maybe Howard (Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District) has some information. Mr. (David) Maxwell (of Occam Engineers) did some work in Virden."
Shannon said she thought the San Francisco had no storage at this point but planned to in the future. Gutierrez said it was a question of beneficial use of the water.
Hutchinson said the original San Francisco proposal included conveyance to a proposed storage facility, with release fed by gravity from Weedy Canyon.
"In a discussion about NEPA, we talked about a 70-foot high dam, but instead we lowered it to 25-feet to store whatever we could," Hutchinson said. "We want to include language that we intend to utilize 10,000 acre-feet off the Gila and 4,000 off the San Francisco. Considering the language of the AWSA and the CUFA (Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement), we have to take AWSA water when it is available. We will give our own analysis to do the projects, if Reclamation wants. We could say a 25-foot-high dam would store 41 acre-feet. We would agree that when you build units of little storage it increases the cost of water exponentially. I think it's preferable to wait for future funds, but if we have to show storage, put a 25-foot dam at Weedy."
Riley clarified that Reclamation was not pushing for storage. "It becomes a challenging NEPA analysis without storage. It doesn't make sense to take AWSA water when you can take New Mexico Decree water at no cost."
"The other thing we've been talking about in the first phase is what NEPA is going to cover," Riley continued. "Why do a NEPA analysis if you're not going to build a unit? Why analyze if there is no chance of building it as part of this NEPA/EIS? If you do it in the future, you will have to do another EIS. They age out quickly. Reclamation is not trying to direct you what to do."
Shannon said she was confused: "Why can't we let the San Francisco have what they want?"
Gutierrez explained that doing an analysis for conveyance without a unit doesn't make sense.
Riley said it is an option to gravity flow water onto lands without water rights at Spurgeon. "That can we analyze."
Hutchinson said: "Let's just say we're going to build Weedy to hold 2,900 acre-feet to full capacity in Phase 1. We don't have enough money in the construction fund, but it gives Catron County the possibility of bonding. It's like someone fears putting it into Phase 1 of the project. We are anticipating future off-stream storages. If we clear the Secretary's (of Interior) signature, we can assure you that there are bonding companies interested in this project. Several international companies are willing to drill wells to take water to Albuquerque. I'm not saying we are contemplating pumping outside the basin. There are potential uses that make this water valuable."
Van "Bucky" Allred, representing Catron County, asked if it would be more cost effective to do the 70-foot-high dam.
Riley said generally the more water that is going to be stored, "you have to analyze. Also, mitigation costs are larger for larger reservoirs or dams."
Allred said the land could use the water. "What is the difference now or in 100 years?"
"If you have no money to construct it for 2,900 acre-feet of storage now," Riley said, "don't do the EIS now, because you will have to renew the EIS and it costs more money. The more water you pull out will impact the fish more. Evaluating a 41-acre-foot reservoir will have less cost than for 2,900 acre-feet. Make sure you are not overestimating how much you can store.
"Why do an analysis, if it's not going to happen now?" Riley asked.
Hutchinson asked if "we are going to be analyzing the withdrawal of 4,000-acre-feet when it's allowed, don't we have to come up with mitigation for that? We should be studying if we can withdraw 10,000 acre-feet from the Gila and what the impacts are on the 4,000 acre-feet out of the San Francisco. Fish studies and everything will have to be done. The point is we want the 4,000 acre-feet of withdrawal."
Riley said he would agree if the San Francisco has the ability to store 4,000 acre-feet. "I don't know why you want an analysis now. It will cost more in NEPA. Why should you spend more money if the storage on the Gila is only 2,000 acre-feet? It's less impact on the native fish than 10,000 acre-feet."
Hutchinson said the amounts of 10,000 acre-feet and 4,000 acre-feet "gives us and the public the ability to look at it to see if it's feasible. Maybe building Hooker was all pie in the sky, until we know if we have the capacity to take the full 10,000 acre-feet and 4,000 acre-feet."
Riley said Reclamation could certainly analyze the whole thing now, "but in the future, you will have to have an EIS redo. That is a potential for spending more money." He said there will be changes in endangered species, in cultural remains. "In 10 years, you will have to redo the EIS."
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, asked for an estimate of how much more expensive it would be to analyze the whole 10,000 acre-feet. Riley said he had not looked at such estimates.
Allen Campbell, representing the Gila Hot Springs Ditch Association said: "It's three different locations with three separate NEPAs. If we bring one to fruition, it would become the New Mexico Unit. We are looking at the project, not the location. We need to create one flagship project and look at the others. We have to spend the money to build a unit and trigger the CUFA."
Gutierrez said he might have a solution. "The estimate for NEPA when it was first prepared was based on projects on Winn Canyon and Weedy. Weedy can easily be included."
Shannon asked about Virden.
NM CAP Attorney Pete Domenici Jr. asked Hutchinson, with respect to Weedy and the whole 2,900 acre-feet of storage, if the size of the diversion needed to be sized to fit the proposed action.
"Yes," Hutchinson said. "What we're really talking about is our intent to use the 4,000 acre-feet. This becomes a programmatic NEPA analysis of withdrawing the entire 14,000 acre-feet for the two basins. The analysis will look at the withdrawal of 14,000 acre-feet when we can take it out of the rivers."
David Maxwell of Occam Engineers said the scope of work had asked them to investigate potential storage on the upper Gila and to investigate the potential for storage in Virden for the Sunset and New Model canals. "We thought the New Model site was a good site. One on the north side was not viable. The other sites, we have named 1P, 2P and 3P. They can hold 418 acre-feet. The New Model is 3P but is only 10 feet deep. We can dig and get more storage there. We estimate up to 500 more acre-feet with excavation. Some will flow by gravity but will need to be pumped to get it into the canal. On the Gila, the opportunity is to top feed into storage and bottom feed by gravity."
Maxwell said there are seven sites on the Gila, with two upstream and two downstream of Winn. "We will excavate, but it will be pumped out. The other sites will feed by gravity. The others are aquifer storage recharge sites, all outside of cultivated land. We can develop up to 3,700 acre-feet with the various sites."
"What about lining the canals in Virden?" Lee asked.
Maxwell said the cost of lining is about $3 per square foot for geo-membrane lining. "We have pockets of pretty tight clay. We might use that material to line other ponds. We are looking at other lining sources, other than the geo-membrane."
"We discussed the next steps at a meeting on Jan. 8 with Reclamation, Anthony and Howard and the ISC," Maxwell said. "Reclamation made us aware of things they needed pretty quickly. By Feb. 15, when there will be a follow-up meeting, we will try to identify the two ASR sites to determine which are the best sites. We're hoping AECOM can do that. We need to get cost estimates by then, too. Other things they will need by mid-summer are the maximum amount of water to be delivered to each location, average annual diversion at each location, how much water can be realistically put into storage, how much water can be diverted and what part is adjudicated and what part is AWSA. To answer these questions, there will need to be some more yield model studies. A model has been developed for Virden to my understanding, but we need to do a model for the storage we're showing now. I don't know what is available on the San Francisco in the way of yield models. By mid-June, we need to know the type of diversion structure to be put on the Gila. We need to narrow down, from three, the sites for pipe. We need to do a geo-hydrology study on the Gila and the ASR sites to confirm we can pump the water we say we're going to. We need soil testing on the proposed storage sites, as well as the lining sources. We need to determine the staging areas and maintenance access roads. Reclamation wants to know exactly where things will be lined. And, of course, the associated operation and maintenance costs, the rights-of-way, and if there are any water rights issues."
Shannon asked if a work order has been issued yet, and Maxwell said no.
Gutierrez said some of the tasks are covered in work order No. 1704, "but we will have to bring another work order."
Shannon asked if it would require an increase in budget, but Gutierrez he didn't anticipate a budget increase, although another work order is needed, including for the San Francisco.
Maxwell asked Gutierrez if a yield model needs to be completed on the San Francisco.
"AECOM did yield models for the San Francisco and the Gila," Gutierrez said. "We do need proposed language for the Virden project. On the San Francisco, we have a recommendation by AECOM. The 2,900 acre-feet is not included in the NEPA. Time is running short. We need to make the decision today."
He said the NEPA has some contingency funds, so because the Gila project is smaller than the one first proposed, it shouldn't cost more. "We do have to specify the proposed action. The cost of NEPA is proportional to the amount diverted. "
Gutierrez said Occam Engineers had not studied the San Francisco, and it might be better suited to AECOM, which has done work there.
Maxwell said he thinks there is potential for another storage site on the San Francisco.
Lee asked Gutierrez for his recommendation.
"I think we should include Weedy," Gutierrez said. "It will cost a bit more in NEPA for full build out. The issues of money not being available for full build out is a possibility, but engineering may be feasible."
It was moved and approved that Weedy be added. Another motion was approved to add the Virden infrastructure, as discussed.
The next item of business was a discussion on a second amendment to the joint powers agreement of the NM CAP Entity.
Gutierrez talked about the draft amendment language. "We also presented this language to the ISC at the January meeting. We don't know when we want to put it into effect. I do feel, after discussion with our legislators, that we need to find a sustainable solution to utilize New Mexico Unit funds. One amendment adds to the purposes of the agreement (Section II)."
Section II (d) would "allow the New Mexico Unit Fund to be used for the planning, design and construction of other water utilization alternatives in order to ensure that adequate financial resources are available to meet water supply demands in the Southwestern Planning Region of New Mexico, and to provide for the planning and development of water utilization projects that will improve the quality of life and encourage economic development in an efficient and cost-effective manner."
Another adds to Section III Representations and warranties. The additions are as yet unnumbered.
"Consistent with the AWSA and the Joint Powers Agreement Act, the Parties to this agreement warrant and represent the following: ( ) That the construction of the New Mexico Unit (development of the AWSA Water) is and remains a priority."
Still in Section 3, it states in "( ) That they have identified an objective to create a program, similar to that used to implement the Colonias Infrastructure Act …"
He explained that the Colonias Infrastructure Fund is similar to the New Mexico Unit Fund, which has some of the same groups represented as the Colonias fund does.
The language states that the representatives "would review, prioritize and approve applications for the planning, design and construction of water utilization alternatives… Construction funding will be only available for projects that are ready to be built."
As for the amount of funding to be available, Gutierrez said it might be a finite amount or a percentage, depending on returns.
Shannon asked why the entity would have to specify an amount. Gutierrez replied that it was pertinent to maintaining a sustainable fund. "If we allocate everything, it doesn't maintain a sustainable fund. If we have 5 percent return coming in, we can double the fund. My opinion is to leave the capital intact and use revenues to provide funding."
Hutchinson said his understanding of what has happened so far cannot be considered as earned income. "We could set a limit on expenditures."
Marcos Mendiola, ISC program manager, said by going to the New Mexico Unit, one can see what the market value is and how much. "It has increased by $3.6 million, which would be the value on the day sold and putting transaction costs on top. Only a small part of the fund has been invested."
Gutierrez said the amendments were only for discussion. "I have asked for input from the members. We can also speak with the New Mexico Finance Authority to talk about how much we could gain based on revenues and investments."
David McSherry, representing the city of Deming, said he would like to see continued work on the language. "I would ask all communities in the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments to work on it and put in ideas that would help each community in the four counties, while we move ahead with our major priority."
Shannon said the issue would be on next month's agenda. "We do need input to Mr. Gutierrez or Mr. Domenici."
Gutierrez noted there are $40 million worth of projects on agencies' Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plans, but only $10 million for this year. "They can separate planning for projects, so they have good planning before they pursue actual projects."
On the next item of old business, members approved the official request to transfer $150,000 from other contractual services to profession services to fund work by Occam Engineers.
Item VIII a. in new business had been removed at the beginning of the meeting.
Item VIII b. addressed updates on the 2018 legislative session.
Gutierrez said the NM CAP Entity has opposed two bills sponsored by Grant County representatives. Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. Howie Morales, and House Bill 127, sponsored by Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, would allocate $50 million to various projects, including $12 million to the Grant County Regional Water Supply Project. "These were attacks on our budget. It is in error on funding projects. The USDA has offered to fund the regional water plan in its entirety. A study proposed on the Mimbres Basin is already in the planning process at New Mexico Tech. It also was in error, as it does not address a water need."
He said it would be an error to drill more wells in the Mimbres, as there are already too many wells for the aquifer to sustain. He said he believed both bills had been tabled and no other bills attacked the New Mexico Unit Fund.
Gutierrez said $35 million had been approved for the Water Trust Board and authorized the WTB to bypass any ISC and CAP legal challenges.
In his executive director report, Gutierrez said it's hard to get much work done, when "I'm back and forth to Santa Fe. But the more we talk about the project the more people are aware. Legislators from rural areas understand our projects. Legislators from Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Santa Fe don't."
Shannon thanked Gutierrez, Domenici and Hutchinson for their work in Santa Fe. "It's sad that Grant County legislators are not on our side."
"I give credit to Howard," Gutierrez said. "He is keeping abreast of what is going on at the legislative session."
B.J. Agnew, representing the Fort West Irrigation Association, said he attended the recent ISC meeting. "Mr. Domenici and Mr. Gutierrez did a great job. I do have a concern about storage on the Upper Gila. Ninety percent of the area belongs to one entity."
Hutchinson also reported on the legislative session. "Two memorials went in to support our project. There was a great deal of public comment, which misrepresented it. Representative Rebecca Dow and Representative Gail Armstrong received a good hearing in committee, but it failed on a 6-6 tie vote. All of those who voted against it do not represent our area. They failed to note the importance of new water to our area. Senator Pat Woods very well articulated the issue of new water and the importance of it in the southwest region. In public input, the opposition articulated being against the proposed action, but did not talk at all about the positive of the project. But I think some of those legislators are beginning to understand our position."
"It reminds me of why we're here," Lee said. "It's about the water and it's about keeping the water in New Mexico. The money is to meet our need."
Hutchinson said he wanted to make one more point. "As representatives of our constituents, our concern is the $58 million to $60 million for our four-county region. We must keep in the forefront that we are working for the benefit of all the residents in the four counties."
Shannon said: "We reminded the other legislators that they are not understanding our purpose. They don't want to understand."
Because the Grant County Administration Center Commissioners' Chambers is not available on March 6, 2018, which would be the next regular meeting, the members chose instead to meet on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 10 a.m.