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ISC-AWSA quarterly public meeting, Part 2

The quarterly Interstate Stream Commission public meeting on the Arizona Water Settlements Act process on Wednesday, Nov. 7, continued with public comment.

Lois Fuller of Glenwood asked ISC Deputy Director Craig Roepke to answer if any of the concerns about the Input Group meetings being open to the public were going to be heard and if recreation were going to be added to the list of interests represented in the group. "I want to know if the ISC give a damn about anything. That's a dam with an n."

Roepke suggested taping the Input Group meetings, but said the CATS board would not let them record the meetings, but has now said CATS can tape them, but only in Silver City. He said anyone could tape them and release them.

"In terms of what the ISC is going to do," Roepke said, "the ISC has accepted this protocol in a public meeting where no one commented, so I don't know if the ISC will change."

"Will you lobby for the changes?" Fuller pushed.

"If the commission will agree to recreation, I don't have a problem," Roepke said.

Rinda Metz, area resident, said: "I've been hearing that meetings should be public. How do we change that?"

"Only the ISC can change that," Roepke said. "I will take the issue to them, but I will not recommend one interest over another. We hope to find a synergistic way to use the money and water to benefit everyone."

Linda Stailey of the Gila Valley said the stakeholders had discussed how many representatives and what interests should be included on the Input Group. "I don't understand why recreation was left off. In fact, I'm astounded recreation is not part of the group."

Siwik said loads of different interests are not included, "again, to limit the Input Group and not be open to the public. I say let the public be there and let their comments be heard. It is helpful to have (the protocol) in writing, but sometimes the rules are followed and sometimes they're not."

Fuller asked if all ISC meetings were open to the public.

Roepke said any decision-making meeting is open to the public.

He pointed out that even with the hundreds of meetings on AWSA, the same participation is seen at every one, the same people, even though there is a full range of stakeholder interests not represented.

He said he would make sure the comments were presented to the ISC Gila Committee. "They do not make decisions. Their purpose is to advise ISC staff." The committee is made up of the state engineer, the ISC chairman, and two ISC commissioners.

Roepke expanded on what Allyson Siwik, one of the two environmental representatives on the Input Group, had said earlier about the last Input Group meeting in Glenwood on Sept. 28.

"Catron County wants to amend its watershed project, because most of it went up in flames," Roepke said. "The Bureau of Reclamation also gave a presentation on diversion and storage options. The ISC does not do notes. The facilitators do them."

Janice Wallet-Ortiz, Silver City resident, asked how Catron County got a chance to update their project. "Did they call Craig and ask? Will other projects get the same chance?"

Roepke said that, when the fire was still going, the county said their project literally was going up in smoke. "I said you could do the changes, but I'm not sure the Commission will entertain it. They came back and said they had a good project. I told them they needed input from environmentalists, the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The county had a meeting and everyone from the groups said it was a good project. I went to my boss, the ISC executive director, and he said to take it to the Input Group and see if they concur, then he would take it to the ISC. Because of that, the ISC considered it and approved $100,000 for reseeding if the Forest Service approves a match, which has not yet occurred. Once that is done, the ISC said it would reconsider the project."

Walter "Ski" Szymanski of Silver City asked whom to contact for written comments. Roepke answered that they would be posted to the website. Comments can be made on the website www.nmawsa.org or directly to him.

Fuller said she had heard about the ISC, the ISC Gila Committee and the Input Group. "Are there any others?"

Roepke reiterated that the only group that makes decisions is the ISC. "The Input Group has no more leverage than this public group."

Szymanski alleged another group was not represented—the general public. "I'm here because the topic interests me. I represent no one in particular."

Donnie Stailey, Gila Valley resident, asked those present not to forget: "It's all about the water. If we don't get the water, it won't matter. You pay $1.59 for a bottle of water. Remember it is about the water."

Bates said at the Gila Symposium, one of the breakout sessions was on the AWSA. Mary Reece of the Bureau of Reclamation discussed the role of Reclamation in the process. Roepke presented information on the stakeholder process and the ISC current process. Siwik talked about water alternatives.

"As they talked about frogs and fishing, the elephant in the room was the AWSA," Bates said. "Donna (Stevens) was a hero by giving a lifetime award to Jack Carter."

"It is about the water," Fuller said. "With effectiveness of the 16 projects, such as conservation, then we will have more water. If you impound it, then all the other projects cannot be done. It's about the water and how we get there. Nature is supreme on how things work over time. There are numerous stories on how men try to make things 'right,' and it's disastrous. It's foolhardy to think we know more than Mother Nature."

Montoya asked why people left Chaco Canyon and answered it—because of drought.

"The reason I brought it up was because I want this group to focus on the real issue, which is 'agua,'" Montoya said. "Don't go off on tangents. You have to look out for the greater good."

Szymanski asked if the public meetings would continue to be held if the Input Group was open to the public. "It seems to me if you mix up the times between day and evening, it will allow everyone to get to the meetings."

The schedule recommendation was for the second Wednesday in January, April, July and October, with the daytime meetings in January and October and the evening ones in April and July.

Siwik pointed out that a pretty important update at the September meeting was the role of Reclamation in the process.

"The ISC has given us the 16 proposals and asked us to do an economic analysis and regional impacts on each one," Mary Reece, Reclamation engineer, said. "We have also been asked to reformulate the diversion and storage projects. They gave us guidance to refigure them and maybe integrate them into one proposal. We were provided possible storages of 5,000 up to 14,000 acre-feet."

Siwik said the diversion and storage projects were proposed for the upper, middle and lower ends of the Gila Valley. The ISC had approved $1.6 million for a contractor to do the work, but now that Reclamation was doing it, "what will the money be used for?" she asked.

Roepke said the money is in the New Mexico Unit Fund, and it stays there and is not expended. "We have permission from the Commission to reprogram the money, if it is needed for another project."

In answer to a question, Reece said maps were not yet available.

Siwik asked how the public participation and review of the Reclamation process was going to work.

"In conjunction with the ISC process," Reece replied.

"Will they be posted and treated the same?"Siwik asked.

Roepke said the process for all studies would be the same, with the results posted to the www.nmawsa.org website.

Donnie Stailey suggested the meeting schedule be Silver City, then to another location, such as Deming, and then back to Silver City, then to Lordsburg or Glenwood, "because participation is better in Silver City."

He also said: "I think every public comment that could be made has been made for the past 13 years."

Wallet-Ortiz asked who would be responsible for contacting CATS to tape the Input Group meetings. Fuller volunteered, and said she anticipated trying to get CATS to tape all Silver City meetings, and then she would do what she could for outside Silver City.

The next meeting was tentatively set for Wednesday, Jan. 9, with time and venue to be determined.

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