The quarterly Interstate Stream Commission public meeting was held Tuesday in Deming to give stakeholders the opportunity to give input on the scopes of work for studies of projects that will utilize the 14,000 average annual acre-feet of water from the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and/or the $66 million up to $128 million allocated by the Arizona Water Settlements Act to the four-county region of Grant, Hidalgo, Catron and Luna.
Ed Moreno served as the facilitator for the meeting. From the Interstate Stream Commission, Deputy Director Craig Roepke, and hydrologists Mark Murphy and Anders Lundahl attended.
"This weekend I got the scopes of work together and posted them on the website," Roepke said.
The website is nmawsa.org. To give comments, a person must be logged in. To receive a login and password, one must click the request login link on the right side of the page just under the menu.
"The scopes will be discussed at the Input Committee tomorrow (Wednesday)," Roepke said. "Hopefully, we will soon be working with contractors, once the scopes are approved by the ISC members."
Roepke played two short videos to prove that "two people looking at the same thing do not see the same thing."
"It's hard not to focus on what you're looking for," Roepke continued. "That brings me around to the Input Group and why the meetings should remain private. We have a broad and diverse representation on the committee. The stakeholder meetings used to be dominated by the extreme ends of the spectrum.
"The ISC wanted to make sure that the stakeholders were well represented," he said. "As much as possible we don't want to miss anything. The input meetings do not replace the public meetings."
He said in the Input Group is asked to focus on a particular task. "It has been very effective," Roepke said. "We have heard exchanges between different interests getting to consensus."
During the input meetings, the participants do not interact with each other, but with the facilitators. They soon realize that diverse interests are asking the very same questions.
Another reason why the Input Group meetings are kept private is because someone taking notes or videoing the discussions "chills discourse. Ten years of public meetings were not getting good input."
The members of the group represent various interests, including the environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, business people, the mines and representatives from the four counties.
"The input from the public meetings will be put into that received from the Input Group," Roepke said. "We don't have time to miss anything."
Anthony Gutierrez, who represents Grant County, pointed out that the group has no voting and the representatives do not have to agree. "Everyone gets input. I think it has been extremely productive."
Moreno said the process began with the New Mexico First Town Hall, where everyone was allowed input, but there was no discussion among participants. "Up to that point, there hadn't been enough focused attention on the problem."
Gutierrez said: "On the flip side, Gerald Schultz is afraid his comments are not being taken seriously or he is not seeing responses to his comments."
"We are going to put into the process, where we ask for public input," Roepke said. "Much of Gerald's input is premature at this point. It's not bad input, it's just not appropriate at this point."
A discussion ensued on how to treat comments. It was agreed that they should be acknowledged, but time is lacking to be able to address every comment.
Gutierrez said he believes Schultz is frustrated because he is a hydrologist and the Input Group is "not a bunch of scientists. Even the scopes as they are now are probably too technical for some of us, but that's they way it should be."
Lawrence Brookey of the city of Deming said the members of the Input Group were chosen for their proven project management. They are working to address the roadblocks to get to implementation.
Roepke said he and his small staff look at comments to make sure there is no profanity and they are not blaming someone for something. "We don't have the resources to acknowledge each comment. We are working on policy. We post and if we can, we expect a response."
Input, if a good comment and relevant to the current process, may expand scopes, he said.
As for the website, he gave a quick overview, pointing out that most new items are being placed in ongoing work. However, the library will receive items that are being moved from the Office of the State Engineer Gila Basin site to the nmawsa.org site.
Gutierrez asked if there was a schedule for letting studies.
"Every three years, the ISC puts out bids for surface, water and environmental program contracts," Roepke said. "That way we don't have to go out on a request for proposal, which takes longer than to assign a project to a contractor already in the system. I hope to have the work orders out by the first of September. We can also hire sub-contractors with certain expertise under the contractors."
Gutierrez said the town of Silver City received Colonias funding for the preliminary engineering report on the proposed regional water plan.
"What if their hydrologist does not agree with another hydrologist?" he asked.
"That's why I like to hire more than one scientist or engineer to work on a project," Roepke said. "It has usually been my experience that if there are conflicting assessments, two good scientists or engineers can work out the differences pretty quickly. Usually, it's because of a different assumption, or they can give a range of what can be expected."
The general work plan schedule was approved by the ISC in June, but the Gila/AWSA work plan is ongoing.
Roepke said 10 or 11 scopes are out for comment, including the Grant County reservoir proposal. "If you have questions, log into the website and post a comment. We will take mailed letters, as well, for those without computers."
"All the scopes are very much drafts," he said. "If you see anything missing let us know."
In a discussion about whether the quarterly meetings should continue, it was suggested that they be amplified, as it was difficult to hear. It was decided the next meeting should be in Glenwood toward the end of October, and then back to Silver City, perhaps to Lordsburg and then back to Silver City, where there seems to be more participation.
Tom Bates, representing Deming and Luna County, said he likes the quarterly meetings because things get explained.
M.H. "Dutch" Salmon of Silver City pointed out the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission has problems getting a quorum. He encouraged the planners of the public meetings to get the word out with better publicity and email notices.
"I want people to come and I want to reach the most people," Roepke said.
Moreno said he writes detailed summaries of the Input Group meetings and they will be posted within a couple of weeks of the meeting.
Gutierrez said an advantage of the Input Group meetings is that a facilitator is posting a person's comments to a large screen, and the person can correct the comment, if he or she does not feel it represents what he or she meant to say.
Donnie Stailey of the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission said: "We tend to forget to focus on what the purpose of the water is."
Salmon said there would be debate on the purpose of the water.
Roepke asked that comments on the scopes of work be posted by Wednesday, Aug. 1, to the nmawsa.org website.