By Mary Alice Murphy
Although the agenda said the programmatic agreement was for approval or disapproval, it was changed at the beginning of the meeting, because it was not up to the entity to approve it at this time, only to comment on it.
In public comment, Claudia Duerinck said, as a researcher, she has been digging into data.
"After I read the packet you sent to Secretary (of the Interior David) Bernhardt, I had questions," Duerinck said. "What is the difference between your alternative plan B and the Gila Basin Irrigation Project? Isn't this duplication of plans? If so, does GBIC relinquish its funding? Forty-seven irrigators stand to benefit from the $754,800, but they are not obligated to buy water from the CAP exchange. The operations and maintenance and replacement costs are listed as $453,900 annually, with O and M, at $128,400. Who will absorb these costs?"
She said two miles down from where she lives, there are substantial water rights in two farms that are for sale. Why would they need to buy extra water?
"What would happen if the group decided to call for a new and totally unbiased cost benefit analysis?" she continued. "I have discovered that the fees for grazing in Grant County are astonishingly low and they aren't even enough to pay for a supervisory position at the county, not to mention other subsidies to the industry."
She said, in view of the "China trade debacle, billions of dollars have flowed out of Washington to support the industry and most is going to corporations. Why is Freeport running a cattle operation? Why has this group pushed at the past legislative sessions for this money to be spent? If farming and agriculture are not stepping up to purchase this water now, hmmm, what will happen when the New Mexico CAP Entity statutes are signed into law? Then we will know by whom and for whom the money will be collected."
The next agenda item addressed comments requested by the Bureau of Reclamation to the preliminary draft of the New Mexico Unit of the Central Arizona Project programmatic agreement, due by Oct. 7, 2019.
CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez said the agreement is directly related to cultural assessments and evaluation. "No action needs to be taken. The bureau is asking for comments on the structure. I have received comments from Howard (Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District) and the Interstate Stream Commission. I assume there are more comments. Once it is approved by the joint leads [the Bureau of Reclamation and the ISC] it will be brought before the CAP Entity for approval."
Hutchinson said his only substantive comment was whether or not the CAP Entity will be included in the section under identification.
"If the CAP Entity could receive reports, we could provide input for questions," Hutchinson said.
Gutierrez said the anti-deficiency portion also raised questions. "You (to Hutchinson) and (CAP Entity Attorney Pete) Domenici questioned why the CAP Entity has to pay for those obligations related to the Historic Preservation Act."
Hutchinson said, typically on this sort of project, historically, BoR paid for all these studies. "I'm wondering why they are claiming they can't do the work unless the Unit Fund pays for it."
"I can't go back and look at prior documents at this moment, but I think, most likely in the prior document for the EIS, this issue might have already been identified," Domenici said. "I know it came up in the last ISC budget hearing. They deferred the cost to us, so we may be obligated to pay it. The ISC wanted to charge it to contingency funds. If we are charged, it doesn't say where the funds have to come from."
Hutchinson said the proposed budget made by Reclamation to the CAP Entity talked about how much would be spent through 2023. "I'm not sure if that obligated us. Hopefully the language proposed by Domenici will go forward. I personally have a stringent aversion to digging up graves of the ancients. I don't believe in destroying history. We have allowed attorneys to get hold of these issues. The performance of things under ethics should be understood. Do not disturb history on sacred sites."
Gutierrez said he thinks the extent of the range around disturbed areas is up to one mile. "I question that range. I think one mile away is not necessary. That's my comment overall."
Domenici said on the duration section, his concern is that it doesn't say when it starts. "Quite a bit is described, but it's not clear whether it starts before the record of decision, so that might be premature. I want to work with the Bureau of Reclamation to make it clear and to clarify when it would start."
No more comments were presented.
Gutierrez gave his executive director report. "I gave a presentation to the Grant County commissioners. They had a lot of questions, mostly on costs and some ecological impacts. I appreciate Claudia's research. Those are some of the questions we have to ask. I am preparing for the Interim Water and Natural Resources Legislative Committee. We have a formal request also from the Legislative Finance Committee for a presentation. Last year, we gave them an update. The chairman decided he wasn't interested in that and threw it out. He sent me a list of questions that we will answer when the committee meets. I will meet with Sen. Martin Heinrich on Thursday (Oct. 3). Dara (Parker, Heinrich's local representative) confirmed my efforts, and I will have 30 minutes or so with him."
"I would also like to answer Claudia's questions," Gutierrez continued. "There are differences between the GBIC and our proposed action. The GBIC has the potential for three diversions. Ours is a single diversion. Theirs doesn't go across the river; ours does. Theirs could undercut the bank and meander. The CAP Entity's proposed action calls for delivery of water to both sides of the river, with a stable structure, which will provide instream flow."
Addressing the comments about where "we want the water. We met with farmers and received a lot of ideas to use the water, especially as supplemental to their adjudicated rights, as well as possibly adding water to small parcels without water rights. The two farms that are for sale are extremely expensive, and they have only partial water rights. There is a need for water. Farmers will be able to increase their current production and with a stable water supply can go for higher value crops. I appreciate someone asking these questions. It helps us improve and keeps us honest. The estimated $435,000 would be for a large facility, which ours won't be. We calculate at per acre-foot of water. I think we have taken all these costs into consideration."
Hutchinson said if one went back to the previous meeting minutes, "I addressed some of these issues and levels of concern. The difference is our cost benefit is per acre-foot, which comes out higher than the business plan. In the business model the San Francisco developed we would be paying for three acre-feet of water for one irrigated acre. We also had a concern of high costs. But those who take care of their ditches do not incur those types of cost. We said the EIS should make sure to quantify the costs and put them in the executive summary. I thank you for your input. I share some of the same concerns."
Joe Runyan, representing the Gila Farm Ditch Association said he was surprised that water rights values were underestimated. "They just spent a huge cost in Duncan for a dairy, about half a million. Ours are undervalued. In Utah and California, an orchard user can pay $1,000 to $1,500 per acre-foot to use a water right. At my farm, we have three gravel berms to divert water and they've blown out twice this year, with no water below the berms. Our (CAP Entity) is a minimal project, so we can store water in holding ponds. I cannot buy any argument that we're overwatered."
Allen Campbell, representing the Gila Hotsprings Ditch Association, said he had heard so many false issues in the comments at the beginning of the meeting. "When they contain misinformation, exaggerations or lies, the comments are not valuable. What people should do is get accurate information and give constructive input. People are hanging onto the inaccuracies, and we're not good at answering them. We don't have time to stand on a soapbox. These groups have little respect for the project. Until they become adults in the room, they shouldn't be speaking."
Hutchinson pointed out one other thing. "When we made the determination not to expend the New Mexico Unit Funds, we tried to design Phase 1 to create the infrastructure so that in the future we can develop storage. We've done a great deal of engineering and have designed and plan to complete that infrastructure. As water values rise, the funding will become available to develop the storage infrastructure."
Van "Bucky" Allred, representing Catron County, said he and several others were invited to give input to the Grant County Commission at the work session on the wild and scenic designation. "In Catron County, we feel the wild and scenic designation poses negative impacts to our economy. We came with a Sierra County commissioner. We came with wild and scenic documents to make Grant County aware of the facts. And what happened? We were called fear-mongering liars. The commissioner invited Udall's representative Melanie Goodman and Heinrich's representative Dara Parker to the regular meeting and they had a hoo rah rah about my coming here. These families that came blazed the trail for others to come. Every question they answered showed no investment in the land. Tomorrow (Oct. 2), nine individuals were invited to speak to Heinrich. We weren't invited. Why will there be no representative from the real stakeholders. Wild and scenic will impact this entity. That is precisely the reason why it came back on the table. What does it do to protect? Absolutely nothing. However, it does give a lawsuit foundation. Their objective is to run everyone off the rivers, stop farming and stop raising cattle. I have a passion for my people in my county. What about those who want to improve the rivers?"
Entity Chairwoman Darr Shannon, representing the Hidalgo Soil and Water Conservation District, said when Mark Allison of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance came and presented to the CAP Entity, "I asked if he supported what we were doing or not. He blatantly said he was against what we were doing. He has an organization that people pay into. Wild and Scenic is ridiculous and I'm opposed."
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said the information that Duerinck had provided to the members and attendees at the meeting, "is very dated information."
Duerinck said she got it from the Acequia Association website. "They need to update their information."
Lee said it was really dated in the Virden Valley, as it named people as contacts, who have been dead a long time. Some information was from at least 15 years ago.
"I put it there for you to pick up," Duerich said. "It's there to substantiate my statement. If it's out of date, I didn't know that."
Lee noted that the CAP Entity has been operating under accurate information.
Campbell said the accuracy of the Gila Hotsprings Ditch Association is "totally wrong. It goes back to one of the original adjudications. It has my father's name in this document. He's long passed."
Shannon asked if the ISC was aware of the old information, that "we now know is inaccurate."
Dominique Work, ISC attorney, on the telephone, asked where the information came from. Duerinck said she got it from the ISC website acequia portion.
Gutierrez said the information used by the CAP Entity for farming data was the 2017 crop report from the Office of the State Engineer.
Work said the easiest way to identify the material is if Marcos Mendiola, the non-voting ISC representative present, could bring the document back, and "we will address it."
The next regular meeting was slated for Tuesday, Nov. 5, which is election day for school boards, some city councilors and soil and water conservation districts, so the room would not be available.
Members concurred that Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 would work for the meeting at 10 a.m. at the Grant County Administration Center.
Hutchinson noted that daylight saving time would go off on Nov. 3, 2019.
The meeting adjourned.