Editor's Note: Because this has been a busy week for long meetings, these commission meetings will be covered in a series. This first article will begin with what was discussed in the work session prior to the review of the Thursday regular session agenda.It addresses a discussion on the proposed amended New Mexico Central Arizona Project joint powers agreement.
By Mary Alice Murphy
Grant County Commission Chairman Brett Kasten, at the beginning of the work session and again at the start of the regular session, asked for a moment of silence for Sheriff Raul Villanueva's family. "He lost his father last week."
The first item of business was to hold a discussion on the proposed amended joint powers agreement for the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, because CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez would not be available at the Thursday meeting. The members of the CAP Entity each had to have the entity they represent approve the amendments. It has been approved by the NM CAP Entity and by the ISC. Any further changes would have to go back through the CAP Entity and the ISC, plus all the other entities that make up the larger entity.
"It is well known that the purpose of the original JPA was an attempt to secure water for the region," Gutierrez said. "The language is specific to forming a New Mexico Unit. But the purpose of the entity has changed somewhat. We want to provide water to agriculture, municipalities and to address conservation. The NM Unit has moved from being a large facility to meet all the water needs to smaller ones focused on agriculture."
He said the long-term needs in Silver City, Deming, and the Grant County Water Commission are being addressed in the amended JPA.
"This board has identified the potential use of Freeport-McMoRan infrastructure," Gutierrez said. "All we've had are very preliminary discussions. I've heard from people a lot of assumptions that are not true. We have opened the door for the purposes of the JPA. The first thing we would have to do is investigate the infrastructure. This entity wants to do its due diligence investigating how much the Freeport infrastructure would benefit the region."
The entity has wanted to hire an engineer to do the due diligence. The Freeport infrastructure was built in the 1960s. "We want to do an assessment. It is still functional and has been identified for its well recharge potential and also for aquifer recharge. We had to amend the JPA to allow this investigation and to add the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, which asked to join the entity. Four of the member organizations have already approved this amendment."
Commissioner Harry Browne asked: "Can you give us some idea of a concrete project? Can you let us visualize it?"
Gutierrez replied that the city of Deming and Luna County are two members of the CAP Entity. "The initial idea of a New Mexico Unit came from them to provide water to the area. We have not been able to meet their idea, mostly because of cost. Because Freeport has some infrastructure that can deliver water over the Continental Divide, although it would require more infrastructure to get it to Deming, we are investigating this opportunity. The original idea for application of Freeport water was to recharge the aquifer. Freeport opened the discussions, but we have no agreement."
"Could there be improvements to the existing infrastructure and potentially an extension?" Browne asked.
"That is a potential outcome, but we haven't identified more infrastructure," Gutierrez replied. "We would have to look at maintenance of the existing infrastructure."
Browne asked if the current infrastructure was capable of meeting the Arizona Water Settlements Act Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement.
"Freeport has not been identified as capable of using AWSA water," Gutierrez said. "In preliminary discussions, Freeport is not interested in running AWSA water, but is interested in using the already adjudicated water."
"So you would use the already adjudicated water, but could use some of the New Mexico Unit Fund money?" Browne asked.
Gutierrez said the NM Unit Fund money came from the federal government, but is now New Mexico money. "The only times CUFA comes into the picture is when the area takes AWSA water."
Commissioner Billy Billings said: "So you're entering into an agreement with Freeport to use existing adjudicated water and existing infrastructure?"
"We are not far enough into discussion," Gutierrez said. "Freeport is not willing to talk about AWSA water. In order to put together an engineering or business plan, we have to be able to do due diligence and had to amend the JPA to do that."
Billings asked how many adjudicated water rights would flow using Freeport infrastructure.
Gutierrez said Freeport has 6,200 acre-feet of adjudicated water rights.
Browne asked if there were also a possibility of using treated water after the closure of the Tyrone Mine.
Gutierrez said they had not discussed those types of water. "Freeport uses wells and Bill Evans Lake water for Tyrone."
Browne said he understands the discussions have been preliminary, but 60,000 acre feet of treated water might be used post mine closure. One thing suggested is the company could sell the water rights to farmers and ranchers in the Mimbres Basin.
Gutierrez said that had not been part of the discussions.
"They might use public money to private benefit," Browne postulated. "How do we avoid that?"
Gutierrez said in order for Freeport to do such an exchange, there would have to be an agreement, sale or lease with private entities. "In this instance, we've identified surface water. We would have to go through procurement. We are not anywhere near there."
Browne kept asking questions with suppositions. "So the CAP Entity would lease the water and resell it. What would the CAP Entity use the proceeds for?"
"All the members of the CAP Entity are political subdivisions of the state," Gutierrez said. "Any funds such as these would be put into a separate fund."
"I see the entity doing this as it gets done," Browne said, "and I see it could become permanent."
Gutierrez noted that one project off the Pecos became a state sub-division as an authority, a regional one. "It is not uncommon."
Browne said it sounds like "we're moving water out of the Gila River and out of Grant County. The big demand is by Luna County. This commission is on record as opposing moving water out of Grant County. I would appreciate knowing the perspectives."
Kasten asked what the mechanism was for getting Grant Soil and Water Conservation District to join.
"They asked to join," Gutierrez said. "They had a meeting and voted to join the CAP Entity. They are now added as part of the amended JPA."
Kasten said he would also like to see Silver City, Bayard and Hurley be part of the entity.
"The more regional and comprehensive, the better representation, the better represented you are," Gutierrez said.
Kasten read the portion of the JPA that addresses Freeport. "That does not constitute that I want to allow water to leave Grant County."
Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said he thinks it is good to look at options. "The water is not going far. The motivator is to keep the water here, but it's good to look at other opportunities. It's good to challenge Freeport to see what they can come up with."
The next portion of the meeting will be addressed in a future article.