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This article addresses a presentation on use of AWSA water.

[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a likely multi-part series of articles on the work session on Sept. 24, 2019 and regular meeting on Sept. 26, 2019.]

Following the special session, county reports and the first presentation on D.A.R.E., which can be visited at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/53553-grant-county-commission-holds-brief-special-meeting-prior-to-work-session-092419, a second presentation giving an update on the New Mexico CAP Entity proposed action was made.

Anthony Gutierrez, New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity executive director, said his kids had been in the D.A.R.E. program at Cliff. "It's a wonderful program."

"This is my first presentation to the new commissioners," Gutierrez said. "A lot has been happening over the past four years. In your packet, you have a lot of documentation related to the Entity, the ISC (Interstate Stream Commission), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and legislation."

In the Arizona Water Settlements Act, only one small portion of the act allocates water to southwest New Mexico, through an exchange process with the Central Arizona Project. Water allocated includes 10,000 acre-feet for the Gila Basin and 4,000 acre-feet for the San Francisco Basin. The exchange costs per acre-foot used are set each year and provide funding to make whole the San Carlos Apache Tribe's water rights. For 2019, the cost is about $158 an acre-foot.

The AWSA allocated not only water to southwest New Mexico, but also federal funding which started at $66 million, but indexed has grown to a total of $90.4 million. The funding goes directly into the New Mexico Unit Fund. It can be used for any water-related project.

Gutierrez noted that because the NM Unit Fund money is invested, although $15 million has been spent on studies and other expenditures, including early on under the Richardson administration where he mandated a stakeholder group which did studies. Investments of the unit fund have recovered about half of what has been expended.

An additional construction fund can only be spent for construction. At present, he said the funding, which is held by the Lower Colorado River Basin entity, is worth about $56.3 million, with a cap of $62 million allocated.

"We want to model Arizona techniques in water development, savings and storage underground," Gutierrez said.

The New Mexico CAP Entity is a successor to the Gila-San Francisco Water Commission, which was the successor to the Southwest New Mexico Planning Group, set forth in the 2004 AWSA. The CAP Entity was created in 2015 out of the GSFWC, with many members remaining in the organization. It is made up of the four southwest counties of Grant, Luna, Catron and Hidalgo, plus 14 members representing municipalities, irrigation ditch associations, and soil and water conservation districts.

"We work closely with the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation," Gutierrez said. "Our major priority is to secure water through the CAP exchange. We also recognize other projects. We have a joint powers agreement with the ISC."

He noted the JPA had been amended to allow the investigation of using Freeport-McMoRan infrastructure to deliver water into the Mimbres Basin.

"I was planner for Grant County," Gutierrez said, "so I am aware of the need of water development. That's why we proposed to use New Mexico Unit Fund money in other areas. We heard the public and the legislators' input to utilize some of the money elsewhere. That's why the project has evolved so much. We tried to design for the Gila, the San Francisco and the Virden Valley to use solely the construction funding. The current project is estimated to cost about $45 million, well within the construction funding. If we do not build a unit, we lose the entire construction money."

A second amendment to the JPA will allow the entity to award funding to water projects applied for and approved by the entity.

"We want to be sustainable," Gutierrez said. "We want to keep the fund as healthy as possible for as long as possible."

The entity has been involved in the preliminary environmental impact statement as part of the NEPA process ongoing by the Bureau of Reclamation.

"We have three different projects," he said. "They are all agricultural at this time, but we recognize that development secures water that can be available for agriculture, municipal and industrial uses. Currently, the infrastructure development can bring in more than 10,000 acre-feet of water. However, due to budget constraints, we will only be able to develop about 4,000 acre-feet at this time in what is called a realized diversion. You lose some to evaporation and delivery, but with return flow, some returns water to the system. We feel it is a benefit to the system.

"Early on, we heard criticism that withdrawing water would dry up the river," Gutierrez continued. "But a diversion that keeps water flowing will have ecological benefits. It's very important to us to preserve the ecology. Because we felt drying up the river was a problem, we designed the infrastructure to make it less impactful."

He noted that at present, push-up dams are more impactful than a permanent diversion would be. "When you put large equipment into the river, you are not able to regulate the amount of water that will be diverted, plus sometimes, it takes vegetation away. A more permanent structure can regulate the water into the ditches, allow fish passage, and you can design it to allow river functions. We're received a lot of input on drying of the river. We got water models back on the availability of water. The CUFA (Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement {part of the AWSA] puts strict parameters on how much water can be used and when in the lower Gila Valley. It identifies when water can be taken in the winter and allows less water to be taken during the higher demands during the growing season. If you fill up a reservoir when there is less demand, then it is available when demand is the highest in the summer. If the water is in storage, it can alleviate demand and will provide a benefit to the river, when it tends to dry up."

Gutierrez said the entity should have the draft environmental impact statement by the end of November. "It is behind schedule, so we will not meet the Dec. 31, 2019 deadline. We wrote a letter to Secretary [of the Interior] Bernhardt requesting an extension. An extension is allowed in the act up to 2030, but we don't want it to go on and on. Also included with our letter to the secretary is our business and operations plan. We are calling it a strategy."

In a recent conversation with Deming, he said the city was approached by a utility that wanted to build another energy facility, but they needed 3,000 acre-feet of water, which Deming could not provide. "Deming has water rights, but that's not wet water. It would have provided about 300 jobs."

He noted that Hanover has a serious problem with water, as it's only available in a shallow aquifer, which has been depleted, "because it has a lot of 'straws' in it. That's why we're also looking at the regional water project. There is a high depletion rate for the Mimbres Aquifer. Developing water is a lot bigger than for a few farms. The business plan identifies the need and smarter uses, with a balance of conservation and securing the water resource."

The business plan is 166 pages, with the appendices and charts.

"The river goes dry in Virden," Gutierrez said. "It's been dry down there since March of this year. It also dries in the upper Gila Valley. We want to take water without a high impact to the river system and provide it when needed."

He gave a brief description of the proposed New Mexico Unit. At the Cliff-Gila location, it includes the construction of a new permanent structure for diverting surface flows from the Gila River. The structure is a fixed crest weir diversion with riffle rundown on the Jordan-Shelly property designed for a flow of 150 cubic feet per second (cfs) and will provide water to both sides of the river. The maximum potential AWSA water diversion is about 7580 acre-feet.

The proposal in the Virden area will utilize the existing Sunset and New Model diversions, as well as other existing canals without modification. Pump facilities for delivery of water from ponds into the canals will be constructed. The maximum potential AWSA water diversion is about 1277 acre-feet.

The proposal in the San Francisco River area is construction of a new permanent structure, a fixed crest weir diversion with riffle rundown at the existing Spurgeon diversion push-up dam and pipeline for delivery. The maximum potential AWSA water available is about 1439 acre-feet.

Gutierrez asked if anyone had questions.

Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked if the wild and scenic designation would impact the diversion.

"Although we’ve been told it won't have an impact, we are concerned about the lower parts of downstream," Gutierrez said. "We feel downstream the designation could cause issues. We also have a concern about the impact on any diversion, such as those serving Freeport McMoRan. I want a meeting with Senators Udall and Heinrich to add language to the wild and scenic designation that protects water rights and the ability to develop water given to us by a prior Congressional Act."

Salas noted the water is not free water. "How will you pay for it?"

Gutierrez said two things are involved—the operations and maintenance costs of the exchange of water off the Central Arizona Project. "The AWSA water in New Mexico has a lot of restrictions. It involves junior water rights. The CAP is senior water rights and it sets the O and M costs, which right now are about $158 an acre-foot. We understand it's expensive, but we haven't realized the value of the water yet. It has never been our intent to ship water outside the four-county area. The 14,000 acre-feet allocated by the AWSA equals 70 percent of what Las Cruces uses. The amount of allocated is twice as much as Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard, Hurley and Deming use annually. The cost of water from Elephant Butte is now about $500 an acre-foot. Return flow credits will help. We figure it will cost $200-$250 an acre-foot. From what we understand from those who want to use the water, it is affordable, and they can profit from it. We want to use the water without a dam, earthen or otherwise. What was originally proposed was a dam across the river and a lake. But that is not our current proposal. Yes, we want a permanent structure, so no one has to push up earthen dams. The dam that creates Bill Evans Lake was done in the 1960s. We want a more ecologically friendly structure."

Salas asked if it was possible to use Freeport infrastructure to provide water on "this side of the Continental divide."

Gutierrez said they are exploring that use. "We've also looked at a recharge water project rather than the demand of delivery. We would like to use the existing Freeport infrastructure instead of building a new pipeline. This is not the first time that usage of surface Gila River water has been looked at."

Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked to clarify. "It's a bit of a challenge to keep it all straight. There are three projects—one each on the San Francisco, at Virden and in the Gila Valley, but only 4,000 acre-feet is the realized diversion. A lot of hydrological models show a loss from evaporation, from delivery and recharge at about half the 4,000 acre-feet. You said you were trying to draw a picture of how much 14,000 acre-feet is. It doesn't make sense if the realized water is less. The earlier price per acre-foot is $158, but plus O and M, it's about $300 per diverted acre-foot, But with the recharge credit, it's down to $200 to $250 an acre-foot. How do you arrive at that number?"

"We use the standard return flow of about 40 percent," Gutierrez said. "The actual percentage will be determined by a technical committee. The Bureau of Reclamation is using 25 percent. However, all around the West, it's 40 percent. In New Mexico, it's around 37 percent. That's why we have the range from $200-$250. We pay on what we divert and store. There is extra benefit from rain and snow. The costs are based on divert and store."

Edwards asked how drought would affect the costs.

"When we calculate the diversion, everything will be measured and everything metered," Gutierrez said. "Recharge will be based on metered amounts."

Edwards had two more questions. "All of your plans are currently for agriculture. You also said it secures water for future uses. So, you're going to develop it for agriculture and then take it away?"

"The uses of water will be for agricultural uses," Gutierrez said. "If additional uses are developed it would require more NEPA and more EIS. Any future development, even drilling a well might trigger NEPA. I was referring to a permanent diversion to take 125 cfs. For future development, impacts would change. This diversion is the foundation to deliver water. But that's another project, not this one. This one currently is for agricultural use.

Edwards said where she is headed is complicated. "To use for other uses, you've been assured that 14,000 acre-feet can be developed. This permanent diversion, which yields 4,000 acre feet will realize about 2,500 acre feet."

Gutierrez said: "You have to remember there are three different components. The San Francisco River is allocated 4,000 acre-feet annually if they develop it, and 10,000 acre-feet on the Gila, including Virden, the third component. It is extremely complicated. Any other project would have to go through another EIS. The 2,500 acre-feet is solely for our existing storage. We removed other storage for budget reasons. The board make the decision to leave the New Mexico Unit fund intact for any other development or project."

Commissioner Harry Browne said he understands that the legal amount available is 14,000 acre-feet of AWSA water, but right now the plan is to develop 4,000. "That leaves 10,000 potentially available. As I understand, we can develop it, but we lose access to the construction funding." Gutierrez confirmed it.

Edwards referred to the Deming energy project that it didn't have the water for and the loss of 300 jobs. "What type of facility was it?"

Gutierrez said he believed it was a traditional water-cooled facility.

"To me, it's not the lack of water, it's the lack of imagination, because they could use dry-cooling," Browne said.

Edwards agreed.

Gutierrez noted that in the New Mexico Unit, part of the proposal is to introduce five wells to use with sprinkler and drip irrigation. "We are also wanting to make the system more efficient by lining some ditches. However, we do want to provide water during dry times."

Browne said: "Not to develop more infrastructure and to keep the expenditures within the construction fund, I compliment you. It's a victory by us and for common sense. Development costs would have been in excess of what is available. You chose to leave it for other projects. You are requesting an extension, and the construction fund and the New Mexico Unit Fund will still be available."

"The construction funding is available as long as we have a record of decision," Gutierrez said. "If the RoD says only for Virden, the construction funding will still be available."

Browne asked who decides who gets funding.

"It goes through the Bureau of Reclamation Fund, which gets $50 million a year," Gutierrez said. "It fluctuates by demand. I honestly don't know who makes the decision."

Browne noted that traditionally, New Mexico is the weakest player.

"That's why we want to request the extension," Gutierrez said. "We wanted to develop a project that makes economic sense."

Browne said the current projects cost $45 million. "Is there some way to use the $11 million to cover past expenditures?"

"We sent a letter to Reclamation for clarification," Gutierrez said. "We will still need permitting and to meet the administrative standards for construction. Some of those costs may not be reimbursable. The leftover funding cannot be used for money already spent. However, moving forward expenses toward construction will be paid for."

To a question from Browne about the weir and riffle rundown, Gutierrez said: "A spot hasbeen identified for the proposed diversion, with permission of the owner. It's also where the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission has proposed a diversion."

Browne asked if they would be parallel or a combination.

"We are proposing something a bit more secure and how the river uses the structure," Gutierrez said. "GBIC is using a spot where there is currently a diversion, but their proposal would allow the possibility of the river meandering away from the structure. We don't want two separate diversion structures. We would have to modify, because we want to access both sides of the river."

He explained that the GBIC has grandfathered acequia standards. "We want a structure that reduces impact. We will be diverting when there is less use of adjudicated rights."

Browne asked if any actual users have said they want the water.

"It's kind of a chicken and egg thing," Gutierrez said. "We don't have the water yet. We have met with potential users and that is reflected in the business plan. At first, we wanted to put water on fallow lands. Users have said they would like the water to be supplemental when water is otherwise not available."

Browne said he thought measuring would be a huge plus. He did a "back of envelope" calculation. "At $158 per acre-foot diverted, if you have to divert 4,000 acre-feet instead of the 2,000 actually applied. Let's leave out the return flow. That's $316 for the exchange plus operations and maintenance. That's $460 an acre-foot. I think the technical committee will be heavy with Arizona folks. San Carlos also has no interest in helping us. $460 is the number I'm thinking of."

Gutierrez said evaporation losses are calculated on an annual basis. "We collect the water in the spring, use it in the summer, and that cuts evaporative losses. The numbers we have were from the Reclamation biological modeling on an annual basis."

Browne said he takes exception to the costs. "They seem incorrect. New water rights cost about $10,000, but that's a one-time cost. Is that cost accurate for ag purposes?"

Gutierrez said if a water right is purchased for domestic use, the price goes up.

"Buying a water right is a long-term capital cost," Browne said. "With the exchange it's like renting. It's still not a fair comparison to leasing water every year."

Gutierrez said he thought it was a question of profitability of purchasing a piece of land with a water right rather than just paying for the water up front. The reduction of cost on an annual basis is what they are talking about.

Browne said Gutierrez had mentioned that a study showed the Mimbres aquifer declining and asked if it was upper Mimbres or lower.

"It's overall, but the greatest impacts are in Luna County," Gutierrez said. "The study is based on the New Mexico Water Plan. It's a deficit rather than a depletion.

The next article will address the review of the regular meeting agenda.

Live from Silver City

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