By Mary Alice Murphy
New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity Chairwoman Darr Shannon opened the meeting by announcing it was Purple Heart Day.
Allyson Siwik gave the only public comment. "Now that the NEPA scoping process is over, I want to comment from the public perspective. The public found it difficult to comment. People got conflicting information at the open scoping meetings. New information was released during the scoping. The project seems to be a moving target."
In old business, members addressed the second amendment to the joint powers agreement. On the telephone, Interstate Stream Commission Attorney Dominique Work said the CAP Entity approved the amendment before the ISC July meeting, which was cancelled by the ISC. "The amendment will be presented to the ISC at its meeting on Aug. 16."
Discussion ensued on the letter to the Department of Interior Secretary requesting authorization for the NM CAP Entity to construct, operate and maintain the New Mexico Unit.
"The letter is short and to the point," NM CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez said. "We may want to consider, since we have a second fiscal agent, if the second fiscal agent will want to take it on. It may require an additional fiscal agent."
David McSherry, representing Deming, said the Deming City Manager Aaron Sera was aware of the intent to send the letter. "He needs more information. Sera has been out of town a lot. The City Council will need to approve it with advance notice and information. The timing of the meetings is an issue. The council meeting is next Monday. It fell into a hole between meetings."
Shannon suggested the item to be tabled until the next meeting.
Gutierrez said at the last meeting, "we were to bring a draft to this meeting. We could approve the letter as to form today conditional on the approval of the Deming City Council."
Howard Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District, said the request is pursuant to the Arizona Water Settlements Act. "I don't see the connection to the second fiscal agent. I'm not sure we need approval by the second fiscal agent. That can be worked out later."
Gutierrez said once the NM CAP Entity get sthe authorization, there will have to be contractual agreements for the exchange, "because we are not a political sub-division of the state. Payments and reimbursements would have to go through a fiscal agency."
Shannon said the members could approve the letter today, "but we want to make sure to stay in the good graces of Deming."
McSherry said he envisions Deming as the second fiscal agent, but the "previous agreement has limits. We would want to expand our authority, as we move toward operations and maintenance. I think we can move forward with this letter. I am willing to take on the discussion with Deming. The Deming City Council, if you approved the letter in September would not be able to take action until its October meeting because of meeting timing."
Gutierrez said: "We've talked a little about becoming a state government agency. We could maybe take on another fiscal agent. But in order to move toward the design stage, we need to make sure we have the authority. I want to submit the letter at this point because of design considerations."
NM CAP Entity Counsel Pete Domenici Jr. said he understood that for design purposes the letter was important. "We are not forcing Deming into taking this one. We will talk to them. We will take on the responsibility for finding and determining the fiscal agent for this purpose. We do need to discuss this with Deming, informing them that at some point, it will flow down to a fiscal agent. We approved the letter at the last meeting, but we can re-approve it."
It was moved, seconded and approved to be sent.
The third item on the agenda was a report from Stantec Engineers regarding the estimated costs of the project, which were placed on the www.nmcapentity.org website.
"The complete cost for all components of construction are $50,334,059," Dave Maxwell of Stantec Engineers said. "The San Francisco Basin Weedy Canyon component is not included because Catron County decided to get other funding for the $69 million project. All the costs have contingencies and include engineering costs. This cost estimate is the same as that which was available for committees for the scoping."
Hutchinson asked if the diversion for the Upper Gila was in the same location as was being considered for the other diversion.
"It's on the Jordan-Shelly land," Maxwell said. "A fixed crest diversion is assumed for that cost. The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission is proposing three cross-vane weirs at three ditches. That cost is not shown, because it would be separate unless it becomes an alternative."
Gutierrez said he would address it in his executive director report. "Mr. Maxwell is correct. We have a verbal agreement to place the diversion on Jordan property."
Van "Bucky" Allred, representing Catron County asked for clarification on the siphon proposed for Pleasanton Westside.
"It will be close to the current diversion," Maxwell said. "It is a ditch on the west side that would need to be reconstructed. Included in the cost is the siphon needed to get water across the river."
Domenici asked how many acres would be irrigated in the Virden area from the two proposed reservoirs.
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said: "About 400."
"I know a line item in the AWSA is for gauges," Domenici said. "Are these the type of gauges you need?
Work said the AWSA allocated $500,000 for USGS gauges, not individual gauges.
"I wanted to mention that when the project summary was approved, a cost summary was included," Gutierrez said. "It is published on the nmcapentity.org website for the EIS (environmental impact statement). There was one public meeting in Albuquerque, where that information was not available."
Hutchinson said: "You mentioned you didn't include the $69 million for Weedy, but there is a task addressing Weedy. Will there be conceptual plans created?"
Maxwell said: "Yes."
The next item to be considered was readdressing the project confirmation package via Stantec Engineers to amend the components provided in the July 3, 2018 summary report.
"Potentially it will firm up the Upper Gila diversion design," Gutierrez said. "We are working closely with GBIC, but they are a little bit ahead of us. We are currently estimating costs for one Upper Gila diversion or three diversions. They haven't designated the specific location, but it's just downstream of the Jordan property. Currently under consideration are three sites, one on The Nature Conservancy property, one on Jordan property and one on Smith-Shelly property. The GBIC is considering putting a diversion on the TNC property. Spar Canyon is where the existing site is for the Upper Gila, which is being considered by the GBIC. There is about a 400-foot elevation difference.
"The vicinity that will be studied is ¼ mile upstream and 2 miles south of there," Gutierrez continued. "We will take into consideration the GBIC site. We are speaking with TNC because GBIC chose the cross-vane weir construction, and TNC is open to considering placement on their property. We have to consider the options and firm them up. We are making some assumptions. The proposed fixed crest on Jordan property is most similar to a rock weir design. We are considering eliminating the Obermeyer and Coanda screen designs, so we can focus our efforts on a single type structure. We have eliminated the option 1P. For alternative sites for ponds, the water table is too high on some grazing areas to consider. We are considering eliminating 4A, 2A, 3A and 1A because the water would disappear too quickly. They do not pose a benefit."
He said they had comments on 6P, that they would have the same issues during high river flows. "It would become marshy when surface water and the pond merge. We are considering eliminating 6P. When we are putting the report together, we will continue to do analyses and find out more information."
"One of the main concerns in the scoping was with domestic wells," Gutierrez said. "The Gila area has 300 to 500 residents on fallow land that have no water rights attached. A groundwater well at 500 gallons a minute would have an effect on the individual level. We are considering removing that well and moving it to Bear Creek."
Allen Campbell, representing the Gila Hotsprings Irrigation Association, said the cost of moving that water at that volume would not be very costly. "I think you could have more flexibility in locating the well than in locating the ponds."
"In the EIS, they have to look at specific locations and how they will impact individuals," Gutierrez said. "We are doing a preliminary groundwater assessment and how it would impact other wells. We are also looking at pumping the water. Sprinkler versus flood irrigation with pumps could increase the efficiency to deliver water to the valley."
Lee said the wells would be subject to Office of the State Engineer approval, which would assess the draw down on other wells.
"What we are doing is providing information for the EIS," Gutierrez said. "By eliminating things, it would have a significant impact on eliminating work by the NEPA contractor and lowering the cost. We can bring an itemized list of things to remove from the proposed action. The more we take out, the more we know we have a focused EIS."
Joe Runyan, representing the Gila Farm Ditch Association, asked what would happen if an individual wanted to put in a well for 50 gallons a minute for a vineyard, for example.
"That's something we discussed last week," Gutierrez said. "The wells are currently sized for 500 gallons a minute. That was more of a maximum amount to measure impact. What we're analyzing now is to measure the area to be served by the pumps and to manage the size of flow by the size of the pump. A personal well using AWSA water would act as a diversion and would be subject to supplemental NEPA and EIS."
Campbell said the water the user is pumping would be aquifer recovery water. "There would be a short time after a flood during which a user would be allowed to withdraw water. There is no way a farmer can determine usage. It would have to be stored. If you're using a sprinkler or drip irrigation, it has to come from filtered water or from underground or it would plug up from ditch water. The farmers are going to develop a secondary pipe system to deliver water. Only for flood irrigation can you use ditch water. Getting aquifer recovery water and storing it should be our initial thrust."
Gutierrez said the concept is to use stored water, not necessarily aquifer water but to take it from storage and pump it out. There is a close correlation between groundwater and storage.
"If you have a high-value crop, it has to be watered on a schedule," Campbell said. "Storage is so important."
Gutierrez said: "We would know from the shoulder months how much water will be available."
McSherry said he hoped what Gutierrez was saying was based on talks with the engineers. "We need to have the well locations in place for the EIS. The pond sites were located based on availability of land. You are trimming things this month. Last month weren't we trying to encompass everything? Could the ponds be lined? Don't throw away locations based only on public comment. It may not preclude it from being a useful site. It may require different construction to use it. Do all your homework."
"I talk to Mr. Maxwell more than I talk to my kids," Gutierrez said. "I wouldn't be here, if this were not part of the engineering design. Because we found out more from different sources, including the Papadopolus report, we did more investigation. What we want to do is take the water out of 6P and put it in Winn Canyon. Excavated, it can store up to 12,000 acre-feet. We would like more discussion. We have issues with the San Francisco. The diversion, conveyance and storage are viable. We have potential issues of where the San Francisco water will be utilized. We are having to assume we will have to put some pumps in certain areas to get the water up on the mesa or for other uses. I think the document from the San Francisco Water Commission spreads the water throughout Catron County, which muddies up our assumptions. We are struggling with the assumptions. We may need a supplemental EIS."
Hutchinson said the San Francisco Water Commission when it was organized describes equitable use throughout the basin. "Unfortunately, people in the Gila didn't do the same. With Sprugeon, if we have the full 4,000 acre-feet, an individual would have only 35 acre-feet. People in Gila and Virden need to think about how to distribute the water to the users. We spent 2 1/2 years developing our plan. Does it add complications? I don't think so. An amount of 1,760 acre-feet was all that could be allocated to Glenwood. The Gila and the San Francisco should be looking at the programmatic usage of the full 14,000 acre-feet annually. It takes a lot of time and thinking to figure it out, but I see it absent on the Gila River. It has to be figured out to determine the users and how they will utilize it. At our last SFWCD meeting, a rancher asked the cost of the exchange. I said about $150 to $180 per acre foot. He said: 'Sign me up. It's cheaper than to haul water.' There are a variety of uses and this water is relatively cheap. They're doing it in Arizona and California for high-value crops. I think individual wells are the cheapest way of capturing AWSA water. Improving the ditches and diversions are also very cost effective and beneficial. I would improve the ditch systems and delivery of water, but I think the most economical is groundwater pumping. We have to go through the permitting process, of course. Assuming we get the record of decision we have to get serious about utilizing and capturing this water. Those of us in the San Francisco have been working on this a long time."
Allred said to Gutierrez: "My explanation to you in the past year was the Weedy could have stored 1,800 to 1,900 acre-feet during the winter. We could have filled it by May. How much would be left, I don't know. Everybody is asking who's going to use the water. Lots would have uses for it. The problem of the Forest Service fighting fires. I saw planes flying over, and helicopters, with two helicopters looking for water. Would the Forest Service be able to use this water? The ISC and the Bureau of Reclamation want to know who will pay for it. We want the full 4,000 acre-feet in Catron County. We can use it in Glenwood. I hope we can distribute it across the county."
"I will let Dave talk about it," Gutierrez said. "If I didn't know the value of this water, I wouldn't be standing here. The EIS is trying to show the impact of diversion and storage."
Hutchinson said: "When we started looking at the amount of private land below Spurgeon, we found 7,000 acres, but there are only 1,300 acre-feet of rights. And that's only in part of Catron County. There are tens of thousands of acres without water rights. That's why, as hard as Reynolds argued, the special master said: 'We can only determine the amount to allocate by the usage now.' Reynolds tried to get 30,000 acre-feet, but it was whittled down to 18,000 acre-feet and now 14,000 acre-feet in the AWSA. We could probably use 20,000 acre-feet to benefit the whole region." He said previously irrigated lands were ignored in the settlement. "We were shorted. You add water to land and its value increases exponentially."
Maxwell said the issue is not about the potential use of the water. "There is a lot of potential. The issue is to have to do the diversion and yield model for the San Francisco River, which will also determine the return flow. We are being asked for a scenario of usage. For the concept, we have identified about 120 acres that could be served with improvements along the river. To develop the 7,000 acres shown on the map, it could be developed with private wells. But what would have to happen is an equivalent amount of water pumped from the private wells would have to be released to the river. The question they are asking is where the private wells are going to be. The joint powers agreement limits the amount to the Glenwood area at 1,700 acres. Secondly, it limits each individual to 2 percent or 36.4 acre-feet, which could irrigate only about 15 acres. To get to the mesa areas, wells wouldn't be sufficient to irrigate crops. We need wells closer to the river and pump the water to the mesa. It would take 33 wells up and down the river to fit the scenario of irrigation. There is a potential for residential development, with a ½ acre-foot per household. The question is: What are we going to give to AECOM and where will the wells be?"
Hutchinson said he has a well on the mesa that produces 50 gallons a minute. "I irrigate a small orchard and a garden. Given the formations through there, on the west side of the river there is some volcanic capping. On the east side, we have a clear shot to the aquifer."
Maxwell asked if he could depend on the underground stream.
"If you do not have a water right, you cannot have an outside spigot," Hutchinson said. "I know people who own land and want some water. Drilling a well works. We have floods pretty much every year. It has to be programmatic for the 4,000 acre-feet."
"AECOM needs to know how a well will impact the river," Maxwell said. "If the well is 100 feet from the river, it will have a direct impact. We have to make assumptions about how the areas will be developed and assumptions on how the development will be spaced out."
Hutchinson said the programmatic model assumes the worst-case scenario. "The timing of the impacts on the river are important. I am 600 yards from the river and a couple of hundred feet up. I think my impact is immediate."
Runyan pointed out that Silver City is already pumping Gila River water over the Continental Divide to provide water to Silver City. "How can we cover all scenarios?"
"We have to use basic assumptions," Maxwell said. "The problem is we don't have time. We've got to move now."
Campbell suggested: "Any assumption you make that is logical, use it. We don't have to take the water to keep it. Make an assumption and go with it."
McSherry said: "If you make an assumption, you can move forward. If it's different you can do a supplemental EIS."
Gutierrez noted a supplemental EIS would cost more.
"Everyone in the room will be looking at a supplemental EIS," Hutchinson alleged.
"Future use is important, but they're making you pin it down," Shannon said.
Gutierrez said not every user would needs a supplemental EIS. "We have projects that can measure the impact based on the crop and delivery methods. We have that already for the Gila and Virden. The programmatic doesn't for the San Francisco. The supplemental will be needed for those not already in the plan. We have language in the proposal for a full 14,000 programmatic approach. We have 4,000 acre-feet for the San Francisco that is programmatic, but the model requires usage."
Shannon asked how it hurt to assume. "Will there be a huge cost to do assumptions?"
Maxwell said he knows pretty much what he's going to do.
Gutierrez said supplemental EISs are expensive.
Siwik asked Maxwell what he was going to do.
"I've done calculations," Maxwell said. "At 36.4 acre-feet per user, it will require 33 wells along the San Francisco River. Each diversion would serve certain areas. The Spurgeon would serve some areas, the WS others, and the Pleasanton Ditch a certain area. There's more land available in the WS and Pleasanton areas, so there may be more wells around there. Those wells would be about 65 gallons a minute."
Hutchinson said $43 million is going to be spent on the Upper Gila. "I think there's no problem spending a couple of thousands more on delivery. We're hoping everyone gets water."
Gutierrez said at the next meeting, there would be no additions to the project, just removals of items that are not feasible.
In new business, Gutierrez talked about the task order information regarding NEPA support. "Each work order will have certain tasks. More will be developed as the process moves forward. The CAP 18-01-P was for fiscal year 2018. In this instance we wanted to bring to the board a task order for $235,000."
Maxwell said that was the target maximum amount. "We're working on a time and expense basis. As we develop the tasks because of the limited funding for the last fiscal year, this task order is based on FY19 estimates. Task order 1 includes what we need to complete within the next six weeks to include the scoping information. The estimate is based on a meeting with the ISC, USBR and EMPSI (the NEPA contractor) and based on gaps we need to fill in."
The remaining item of old business allowed the chairman to appoint a committee to address the Legislative Finance Committee in September. " The Sept. 27 meeting will be held at City of Rocks. I am appointing Hutchinson, Lee, Domenici and Runyan as the speakers."
Gutierrez said about 1 ½ hours is allocated to the NM CAP Entity, the ISC and the AG on the tentative schedule.
The rest of the this meeting report covers the executive director report and the member roundtable.
Hutchinson said a little earlier, Gutierrez had mentioned the lack of standing of the NM CAP Entity as a political subdivision. "I will help with drafting legislation."
"I have talked to the engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation about the geomagnetic surveys done by flying over the San Francisco Basin," he continued. "I have contacted the USGS asking if the report has been developed. In contacting them, I learned that the surveys have been done all over the area, including the Gila River Valley, all the way into Arizona. The number of geothermal sources is another potential use of the water for geothermal electricity generation. They also did a Gila River study on the availability of water. "
Domenici gave an update to the board. "I have seen emails circulating about a meeting with the San Carlos Reservoir. The comment talks a lot about the Globe Equity, the tribal concerns and about how the CAP Entity diversion will impact the Globe Equity rights. There will be a meeting with Reclamation, the ISC and the NM CAP Entity invited."
He said that he still sees still information at public meetings showing higher costs. "It's helpful that our estimates haven't changed. They need to be better distributed. It seems to be common to overstate costs of what we're trying to establish. You can read it out of the CUFA (Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement) at 188.8.131.52. It reminds me of the Globe Decree. It doesn't talk much about groundwater. The CUFA gives the Technical Committee authorization to determine the impacts of pumping groundwater on the flows of the Gila and San Francisco rivers, so groundwater use is anticipated. At 2.4.7, which says 8, there are two kinds of diversion. One is called the Secretary's remote diversion points. It says New Mexico may divert water regardless of whether its surface water. Two provisions that are starting points anticipate we can divert AWSA from groundwater. It defers the decision back to the Technical Committee, which has a certain time to give an interpretation on how it would impact the rivers. As you go forward, Dave, it is not defined yet how the Technical Committee will determine the use. I think we're moving forward on using groundwater. It maybe needs to be addressed in the EIS."
Lee asked who is on the Technical Committee and when will it begin to operate.
"The committee is basically on call," Hutchinson said. "It only convenes when it is needed to make a decision."
Domenici said it has not been developed. "But I think at some point the Technical Committee has to weigh in."
"Can we move along with groundwater usage or do we need the Technical Committee to make a decision?" Lee asked.
Gutierrez said it was discussed in a meeting with Norm Gaume and Peter Coha on their model.
"It's part of the modeling AECOM is doing," Gutierrez said. "That's why it's important to develop the models on how we potentially measure the diversions and how to measure and how to use it in months when we may not be able to divert water. It goes back to the scenarios to show if using groundwater how much would need to be returned to the system to balance water usage. You would need that documentation to present to the Technical Committee."
In his executive director report, Gutierrez said he sent out letters to landowners to get permission for access for biological surveys. "I felt it would be more effective for the request for access to come from the NM CAP Entity. Mr. Lee brought it to my attention that I had put it on letterhead, and that it had not been approved by the board. Subsequently I wrote an additional letter saying the board had not approved or endorses any type of access by NEPA contractors or by Reclamation. I sent out probably 200 letters. I take full responsibility for this. In my attempt to expedite it because we're in a time crunch, I didn't do due diligence. I apologize for Mr. Lee first because he has taken some hard knocks. It's up to the residents themselves. Although the data will be used for construction or improvements to infrastructure."
Lee said he appreciated the second letter. "I had a landowner contact me, and by the way I didn't receive a letter and I have more than two miles of river. From the landowner's perspective, this kind of survey can create a situation where they have to make changes in how they use their land. Secondly, we have good credibility with the landowners, and I don't want to jeopardize that credibility by forcing them to agree to the survey. They don't have to do it to have the projects done. I thought it important for them to know that the people at the top didn't approve the letter."
Shannon noted that the second letter said the survey was not mandatory. "The first letter didn't say that. It should have been in the first letter."
Gutierrez agreed that it is not mandatory for the EIS but does provide more credibility for the EIS and makes it defensible. "It is mandatory for construction. We know the EIS will be challenged."
Lee asked if the letter were sent to landowners in the Gila Valley and on the San Francisco. Gutierrez said he went to the county assessors, with Allred going to the Catron County Assessor.
"I have the second letters prepared for the Gila Valley," Gutierrez said.
Domenici said he got a response from Catron County.
Hutchinson noted an error on the second page and suggested a map showing where the surveys needed to be done.
"I did speak with Sean Heath (Reclamation) and told him my dilemma," Gutierrez said. "He is going to pass it on to the NEPA contractor and they will be contacting the landowners."
"You don't need to send me a letter," Lee said. "I'm going to answer: 'No.'"
Gutierrez then talked about public comment. "We got lots of responses. Some were in a form letter from the Gila Conservation Coalition. There was a lot of good public comment, which gave us a lot of good information and a lot of alternatives. It ended on July 20. We got comments from board members and their entities. There were a lot of non-diversion alternatives suggested for use of the New Mexico Unit Fund."
"Our construction costs are designed to fit into the funding available in the construction fund," Gutierrez noted. "From opponents to a diversion, they sent alternatives for components we could use. There were efficiencies, comments on lining ditches and potential metering. I think the comments are posted on the EIS website from the contractor."
Gutierrez said there were a lot of concerns on potential data gaps that will be incorporated into the EIS.
Shannon recognized Lloyd Valentine, Deming Office of the State Engineer water master, for attending the meetings. "Thanks for being here."
The next meeting is slated for Sept. 4, at 10 a.m. at the Grant County Administration Center.