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Gila San Francisco Water Commission addresses absent membership problem

The Gila/San Francisco Water Commission met on Aug. 21 in Silver City. Because a quorum was present, the members were able to approve the agendas and corrected minutes from the March, April, May and June meetings, which did not have a quorum.

Under continuing New Business, Gerald Schultz, who is affiliated with the state Resource, Conservation and Development districts, reported that funding of about $15,000 was turned over to the Black Range RC&D to pursue a dam on the Gila River. He had proposed the funding be turned over to the Water Commission. Schultz traced the funds by speaking to several people who were once a part of the Black Range RC&D and determined the approximate amount. However, the BR RC&D has not met in almost two years, so there is no real way to access the funding.

GSFWC Chairman Vance Lee said the item would be taken off the agenda until the issue can be resolved.


Lee also reported he had written a letter, as requested by the membership, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for representation from the water commission on the Stakeholder Committee of the Recovery Team for the spikedace and loach minnow.

"I had a conversation with a Steve Spangler, who showed interest in having a representative from among those who live and work on the Gila River," Lee said. "He told me that in the interest of keeping the group small, and because he had also received a request from the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission, he wondered if we could come up with one representative from the two groups."

Billy Webb, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District, said he had no objection to having only one person.

Topper Thorpe, alternate on the commission for the GBIC, said that to his knowledge, Dave Ogilvie, GBIC chairman had received no response.

"I suggest you and Dave visit on the issue," Thorpe said. "I think it is essential for us to have representation on the recovery team."

Anthony Gutierrez, who represents Grant County on the water commission, said he had put his name in as a possible representative, because in his job as Grant County planner, he is required to represent the county.

"I'll talk to Dave and see whether you or Dave is the better choice," Lee said.

Webb said he expected to see a decline in the spikedace and loach minnow population, especially on the San Francisco and its tributaries, as a result of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire this summer, because of the ash coming down the river.

Lee said the Gila is "black, too."

Webb asked if the group was interested in being involved if the USFWS designates jaguar habitat in southern New Mexico and Arizona.

Lee opined that the commission is for addressing water needs, but if the Gila River is in the habitat, perhaps the issue should be addressed. No one had seen a map of the proposed designated area.

In Old Business, members discussed communication with the Interstate Stream Commission.

Thorpe, who is an ISC commissioner, reported on the process to help determine which projects should be approved to utilize the 14,000 average annual acre-feet of water and the funding of $66 million up to a possible $128 million, as authorized by the Arizona Water Settlements Act. The scopes of work are being refined and the ISC is in the process of getting contractors together to do the scopes.

The Input Group, which is advising the ISC, met last month, and also held a public information meeting in Deming.

"We should have the scopes by the end of August or first of September," Gutierrez, an Input Group member, reported. "One contract has been awarded to Shoemaker for hydrology for the Tri-City reservoir proposal."

Tom Bates, representing Luna County and Deming, said the real value of the updates is that ISC Deputy Director Craig Roepke can answer questions. At the last public meeting, he also went over how to use the nmawsa.org website, where information on the process is posted.

"I also gave an update to the Luna County Commission on the history of the AWSA, and our efforts to develop water projects," Bates said. "I told them the ISC chose 16 alternatives, and 11 are in the work plan to gain more information. I explained that Deming had withdrawn its water diversion project, which was originally proposed so that water would remain in Southwest New Mexico."

He said Javier Diaz, Luna County commissioner, had attended the Interim Legislative Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting in Las Cruces, and heard the diversion had been withdrawn. Diaz protested it and said the water can be used only once; the money can be used only once, and Luna County should have some of the water.

Webb reported that at the last SFSWCD meeting, a man sent by the ISC had discussed and sought input on how to better utilize the AWSA water with higher-income crops. "In Catron County, we have very little private land for agriculture, although Mineral Creek residents in the past did a lot of farming. We're not using the water we're entitled to now."

Bates said Luna and Hidalgo counties have thoughts about how to use the water. There are big solar companies who could use it.

Lee said he is looking at a plan to get members at the meetings. He also searched the joint powers agreement and found that if members do not show up, a letter can be written to them demanding they attend or find a replacement. If they do not reply within 30 days, the commission can appoint a representative.

"Since January of this year, five entities have attended no meetings —Hurley, Lordsburg, Reserve, Santa Clara and the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District," Lee said. "Since March, Columbus, Catron County and the Luna Ditch have not sent representatives."

He suggested that the letters should be hand-delivered to the entities, so that the importance of the group can be emphasized.

Schultz said he had talked to the mayor of Hurley, who was unaware of the group and its history.

Lee concurred that elected officials had changed in the eight years of the water commission.

Thorpe said some might not attend because they have other commitments or do not feel the meetings are productive. "Maybe they should be less frequent."

"Not everyone has the same passion as we do," Lee said.

Gutierrez pointed out that until water does not come out of the faucet, many would not be concerned about water.

During public input, Schultz read the report that he had wanted read at the July meeting. It concerned reports he had read and conferences he had attended, as well as what is happening in Nevada with higher-value crops.

Webb said the San Augustin Plains consortium had visited the Catron County Commission to try to get support for their plan to pump more than 50,000 gallons out of what they say is a closed aquifer below the plains.

"I think it's an investment scam," Webb said. "They said that 19,000 gallons evaporate from the aquifer annually. How can that happen, if it's a closed aquifer?"

He said he asked several questions, such as where the recharge came from, and they said: "Snowpack." Webb asked how old the water was to which they answered: "Pretty old." And the group said it would "increase recharge by removing the sand and clay so the water could recharge through the cobble more quickly."

"The County Commission did not support their plan," Webb said. "I also want to report that a New Mexico Tech hydrologist is studying wells along Whitewater Creek and Mineral Creek, because they are drying up. He believes that the carbons from the fire are settling to the clay level and sealing the shallow aquifers."

Schultz announced the Water Resources Research Institute, which was held today at New Mexico State University.  

Members agreed to skip a month before the next meeting, which will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the Grant County Administration Center.

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