By Mary Alice Murphy
The first item of old business at the New Mexico Central Arizona Project entity regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, addressed the second amendment to the joint-powers agreement with the Interstate Stream Commission.
The second amendment seeks to allow utilization of some of the funding allocated to the entity for a New Mexico Unit for other water projects in the area.
The funding, out of the Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, was allocated to the four southwest counties of New Mexico – Grant, Luna, Catron and Hidalgo—by the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004, along with an allocation of 14,000 acre-feet of water diverted from the Gila and San Francisco rivers to be put to beneficial use in the area.
ISC Attorney Dominique Work, who attended the meeting via telephone, said the ISC met Aug. 15 and moved to table the item. "ISC members were concerned that it would open up funding to other projects before the Record of Decision was made [by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior before the end of December 2019.] They believe that the New Mexico CAP Entity should focus all its attention on achieving a New Mexico Unit. ISC staff was instructed to speak with the entity's attorneys."
She said the ISC members felt that now was too early. The ISC does not have a September meeting scheduled, with the next one set for Oct. 19. "I am unable to attend," Work said. "I would like a follow up meeting with the attorneys. We want further conversations. The entity might want to consider changing something or might just want to wait."
NM CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez said: "The JPA amendment states that no applications would be considered before the decision in 2019. The JPA sets no time limits on when it might accept applicants."
"Those comments did not alleviate the ISC's concerns," Work said, "because a lot of work would remain to be done after the decision. The ISC prefers you not spend time on anything besides the unit."
Allen Campbell, representing the Gila Hotsprings Ditch Association, said he has never been totally in favor of taking the application process on by the entity. "At this time, it has my limited support because it was begun for political expediency. It is important for us to get the 14,000 acre-feet. That is our main mission to get a project here."
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, and chairing the meeting in the absence of Chairwoman Darr Shannon, said he had some of the same concerns as Campbell.
Gabriel Ramos, representing Grant County, said he believed the entity had enough members to support the amendment. "Being that we won't look at any applications before the decision in 2019, I don't think it will take away from our project. It's important to my and other constituencies that we move forward with the amendment."
Lorraine Hollingsworth of Pete Domenici's law firm said the reason the amendment was raised was because of annual discussions with the Legislature. "I think we can get an amendment done. I think the push was for the next legislative session, so we have a plan going forward."
John Sweetser, representing Luna County, noted that last at the legislative session, efforts were made to take away about $50 million. "In the next session, if that happens it might get done. Practically speaking we need to focus on the project. I question the wisdom of putting a lot of effort into this amendment. Depending on how the election goes, we may be in a bad spot."
"Those are the reasons we came up with this because of the push from the legislature to take away funding," Ramos said. "If they had seen that we had this plan to use the funding, it might change their minds. The application doesn't come until after the record of decision."
Work said if the entity is inclined to make slight modifications to the amendment, it might alleviate ISC concerns.
"The only reason we put forward this amendment to the JPA is to appease the legislators and our opposition," Ty Bays, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, said. "I want to see us get something done. We need to refocus and get the project done."
David McSherry, representing the city of Deming, asked if tabling the amendment meant tabling it and forgetting it or tabling it until the next meeting.
"I agree we should focus on the project," McSherry said, "but for some entities in this group, the only options for us to get funding and water is in this amendment. If we are putting it off until we hear more information that's great, but I do not support killing it. We are waiting for NEPA and getting public comments. We might as well be meeting to see how the ISC plays out on the issue. In the meantime, we can put some work into it."
Campbell noted that Ramos had made a valid point. "But, I'm not entirely in agreement. If we open the gate, people will be coming through it."
Bays pointed out that it is not the entity tabling it, the ISC already has tabled it. "If we want to get the project passed, we need to do something to appease the opposition. Either we do something or sit back and wait for something to happen. I'm not proposing to table it."
Gutierrez said the ISC did not say it did not want the entity to do the amendment. "But we do have an immediate need to provide information for NEPA. I think it was the ISC's idea of overarching needs. We can maybe make simple amendments to the language. I did explain to the ISC that every year, we have issues with the legislators. By the record of decision, we will have the EIS (environmental impact statement) and a better idea of costs. The JPA already allows us to potentially address Freeport infrastructure."
Howard Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District encouraged everyone to go back and look at the minutes from the previous two meetings to understand the details of the amendment.
"The JPA amendment would look at funding other water-type projects," he continued. "I would like to remind Dominique that it was ISC's resolution that forestalls funding for anything but the unit. I don't think it has been rescinded. So, their concern may have validity. We continue to focus on a diversion and use of AWSA water. That is our primary purpose."
Work said she wanted to echo what Gutierrez said. "The ISC feels the New Mexico CAP Entity should use all its energy at this point toward the project. Once the decisions are made and the unit is secure. the ISC will be amenable to spending money not needed for the unit on other local water projects."
Hutchinson asked that the item continue to be in the old business section of future agendas.
The next agenda item readdressed the project confirmation package via Stantec Engineers to amend the components provided in the July 3, 2018 summary report.
"At the last meeting, I explained some things that we are considering, once into the NEPA process, that we want to eliminate to narrow down the focus," Gutierrez said. "A larger project requires a larger NEPA and we don't want to have to assess or evaluate things that are not needed."
The first item narrowed the diversion area to the Jordan/Shelley property and the existing diversion area, which is on the parcel line between the Jordan and TNC properties. This will exclude the Smith/Shelley property.
Lee asked if it would be possible to directly put water into agricultural use without it going through storage.
"Yes, any diversions above the storage could access water directly," Gutierrez replied.
Currently there are three types of diversion structures for consideration. "I am recommending a fixed crest diversion structure, which I believe would best serve our purposes and could be adjusted in design to accommodate any ecological and hydrological concerns," he continued. "I recommend deleting the Obermayer gate and Coanda screen based on costs of maintenance and power use."
Gutierrez recommended removing all of the alternate storage areas originally considered for aquifer storage and recovery areas, including 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A, with the only aquifer storage recovery to be considered being in Winn Canyon.
Reduction of the storage pond 5P was requested by the property owner on the northerly portion of the pond. "Elimination of 6P based on additional analysis of the groundwater elevation would significantly decrease the depth, thereby reducing the estimated storage. The reduction in storage of 5P and 6P will be replaced by additional excavation in Winn Canyon.
Also recommended was the elimination of two wells in the upper reaches of the Gila River irrigation area. Other wells will be analyzed for feasibility and impact to the aquifer as well as to existing wells. Wells will be analyzed during the NEPA process and any relocation of wells would potentially need a supplement to the EIS.
Reduction of the length of the McMillin Ditch would allow it to provide water to potential irrigable lands on the east side of U.S. Highway 180. It would eliminate the ability to irrigate using this ditch on the east side of the highway and will eliminate utilization of the Carlson ditch in Riverside, which would otherwise require complete reconstruction.
The last recommendation was to relocate a well from the east side of the Gila River to the west side of the river to provide water to areas now served by the extension of the McMillin and Carlson ditches.
"These recommendations will reduce the amount of analysis needed to complete the NEPA process, while narrowing the overall description of the proposed action and will subsequently reduce the overall estimated cost of the project," Gutierrez said. "These recommendations only affect the Upper Gila portion of the New Mexico Unit. All other components on the San Francisco and Virden areas will remain the same. We are eliminating things that are infeasible."
McSherry asked about the relocation of a well.
"There is actually a culvert under 180 from the Gila Farms Ditch area," Gutierrez said. "We would move a pump, so they can irrigate on the west side of the river."
Hutchinson said he thought the members at the previous meeting had approved the recommendation, but he would formalize it with a motion.
Campbell said he did not have an argument with most of the recommendations. "There is one thing I have a problem with. And that is the removal of the Obermayer gate in the Cliff-Gila area. On the McKinney and Pleasanton areas, they are in restricted flood plains so that's OK. However, the Gila has a wide floodplain. The advantage of the Obermayer gate is the ability to raise and lower it. It can be raised slightly after a flood to let water into the ditches. If we have a wide fixed crest it will build a large gravel bar that will need to be removed after floods. I've managed our diversion for 50-plus years. It has been narrowed by the road. This is on the West Fork and Middle Fork of the Gila. We have serious flood flows. With the Obermayer, you can drop it to maintain the river channel. The river will rechannel, if you have a fixed top. You will have gravel problems and farmers will have full hell maintaining their ditch gates. You have to have the river restricted to maintain the channel. You can put up temporary wood structures, but it is a big river and at times, it's an enormous river."
Gutierrez said his recommendation was based on maintenance and electricity costs.
Esker Mayberry, representing the Fort West Ditch Association, asked if engineers had a solution to sand and gravel bars after floods.
"We can have sluice gates," Gutierrez said. "A fixed crest structure can allow gravel to go over the top, based on my studies."
"I know the problem," Mayberry said. "As long as an engineer can solve it. We need an option to push the sand down the river rather than into the ditches."
Campbell said the point he was trying to make is that an Obermayer gate is a simple device that maintains the river channel. "I don't know how wide a fixed crest you are planning. An Obermayer gate would be about 40 feet to 50 feet wide. That maintains the river channel."
He said his Gila Hotsprings campground took 30 percent to 40 percent of the 2013 flood. Trees and rocks moved in the main channel. "If you stretch the fixed crest to 200-300 feet wide, it will pile up the gravel and the sand will go down the river. I've had to use a big excavator to move thousands of tons from the gravel bar. You need a low section, where I prefer the gravel to move, then just 30-40 feet to dig out to the ditch. Let's not say we can't do this."
McSherry said he lives in the alluvial part of the river. "I think you should consider that there's no place to put the sand and gravel. Back to moving the well. Are we providing service to just one owner or pumping into a communal ditch?"
"Our purpose is to provide the water to the users who want to use AWSA water," Gutierrez said. "The sole purpose is to move the pump for all the landowners and for public use. In the case of a sprinkler system, they may not need the ditch. They have to have a permit for their wells from the Office of the State Engineers and must have purchased AWSA water."
Mayberry also asked a question on behalf of the Gila Farm Ditch. "We're talking strictly AWSA water, right?" It was confirmed.
The motion was approved with two nay votes—Campbell and McSherry.
In new business, Gutierrez said he had received requests from the NEPA joint leads (ISC and Reclamation) for some priority data gaps. "Stantec is working diligently on them. Some are labor intensive. We received a diversion and yield model late last week. Some of the items requested we cleared up in the last motion. Others are still being worked on. Some may potentially not be addressed until the groundwater model is done."
He said in an email the joint leads asked for data that will be completed by Sept. 13. It was requested by (ISC Director) Longworth, "solely for us to provide additional data. We have had some problems with property owners, and I've been having discussions with them. We may have to have some minor alterations in design, and we may have to purchase easements and rights-of-way. Some are just data gaps, not changes to the proposed action. Mr. Longworth in the email wanted clarification of what he called inconsistencies. Some have already been solved. Stantec has made some modifications. The OSE wants to make sure the project summary is what we want. Most of the problems have to do with engineering."
Gutierrez confirmed that the proposed action has not changed, but the technical information has changed. "It just needs to be cleared up. A lot of data is passing back and forth between Stantec and AECOM. I got an email Friday morning about data and got the yield model in the afternoon. I think there is a lack of communication."
Hutchinson said he wondered if the ISC listens to the NM CAP Entity meetings. "I think a lot of questions could be answered by the minutes. When we discussed utilizing wells, we asked Stantec to make assumptions on groundwater to be used. The memo addressed that question."
Gutierrez said the entity did not have the exact location for the wells. "That was addressed in the memo."
"The Technical Committee, pursuant to the AWSA, was to be created to address groundwater assumptions and that we are looking at the full 14,000 allocated acre-feet," Hutchinson said, "with 4,000 for the San Francisco Basin. The full 14,000 acre-feet would be utilized as a programmatic part of the proposed action."
McSherry asked if the group had ever seen the information in the yield model before.
"We had a yield model for the larger project," Gutierrez said. "We asked for a yield model for the existing proposed action. We haven't had a groundwater yield model that has been created for our proposed action. Papadapolus had done a groundwater model for the larger project, so we used data from it. The last scope of work approved by us and the ISC asked for modifications to the yield model for our proposed action."
McSherry asked if, in Gutierrez's and Stantec's opinion, the yield model affected anything that would modify anything.
"Perhaps the final design," Gutierrez said, "but not the proposed action. There could be changes during the NEPA process. The EIS will be for maximum impacts."
Hutchinson noted that the discussion at the last meeting talked about the direct impact of groundwater withdrawal from wells near the river.
Dave Maxwell of Stantec said the instantaneous diversion rate could potentially be reduced to alleviate the impact.
McSherry said he would like the bad news now. "You are the ones who see the data."
Maxwell said: "When you decrease the size of the project or storage, the reliability of the data has increased."
Hutchinson said he shared Mr. McSherry's concern. "I would like to see the information. It may require a special meeting to make changes. If we are anticipating any significant changes, would we have to modify the proposals?"
"I feel the data would fill the gaps," Gutierrez said. "We can do it administratively, if the entity feels comfortable with that. It would be me, the engineers and the attorneys who would provide the information."
Lee said the entity may need to give Gutierrez, the engineers and the attorneys authority to answer the questions.
Hutchinson said if it would modify the proposal, the entity members should be made aware of the changes. "I think various parties can communicate with you. I move the executive director, the engineers and the legal team to continue to communicate these issues with the joint leads."
It was approved.
The executive director report and members roundtable elicited little discussion.
"The only other thing I have to say is that I sent an email to the committee formed at the last meeting to get input for what kind of documents are needed for the upcoming Legislative Finance Committee meeting," Gutierrez said. "I am also working with Frank Ward of New Mexico State University for a comparison of the full diversion and our current proposed action."
Gutierrez noted that he had not yet received the agenda for the LFC.
Lee said it was recommended to him for the entity to use its counsel to present to the LFC.
"My understanding is that we will have about 30 minutes to present, including answering questions," Gutierrez said.
Hutchinson said he has been engaged in writing lots of comments to federal agencies, so he would toss out a straw man outline to the entity committee.
Hollingsworth said the legal team could also do that.
Hutchinson said he appreciated the recent efforts of the engineer for doing yeoman's work.
The next NM CAP Entity meeting is scheduled for Oct. 2 at 10 a.m.