By Mary Alice Murphy
The New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity regular monthly meeting, held on Jan. 2, 2018, addressed several agenda items without its executive director, Anthony Gutierrez, who called in from the Tucson Medical Center where he was because of a family emergency.
Others on the telephone included John Rasmussen of the Phoenix Office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Gila Basin Manager Ali Effati and engineer Helen Sobien of the Interstate Stream Commission.
The first item of business was the election of officers. A motion was made to retain the present slate, which includes Chairwoman Darr Shannon, representing the Hidalgo Soil and Water Conservation District; Vice Chairman Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County; and Secretary Van "Bucky" Allred, representing Catron County.
The Open Meetings Act resolution was approved after Shannon said the only changes were the resolution number, the year and the change of meeting times to 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month to accommodate those arriving on the airplane from Albuquerque.
Only one person had public comment. Gerald Schultz of New Mexico Resource Conservation and Development noted that, at the previous meeting, which he had watched on CATS TV, Allyson Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition had addressed the lack of funding for shovel-ready projects.
He said the Grant County Water Commission plans to apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for funding for the Grant County Regional Water Plan. "It's sad when AWSA (Arizona Water Settlements Act) funds are available. I have heard the joint powers agreement may be changed to pay for other projects. I welcome that change."
Schultz said if the membership of the entity reflects everywhere from Quemado to Animas, "there should be projects funded by AWSA money. If not, it should be a smaller board that just includes the Gila Valley. I've been preaching for activities over all the four counties."
In old business, Shannon asked that a motion be made to rescind a motion made at the last meeting where the membership voted to increase the budget. She said after the meeting, the ISC said it would prefer the entity to take the funding out of the contractual line item to purchase water credits for one time only.
Lee, who made last month's motion, moved to rescind the motion and it was seconded by Ty Bays, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, who had seconded the motion the previous month.
"As a point of order," Lee said, "I think Robert's Rules of Order requires a two-thirds vote in favor."
The decision was unanimous in favor of rescinding the motion.
The next motion requested a budget revision to move funding from the contractual line item to professional services. The ISC must authorize the change to temporarily adjust the budget.
Also in old business, next steps for engineering relating to the New Mexico Unit came up.
Gutierrez asked Dave Maxwell of Occam Engineers Inc. to present the report.
Maxwell said the work order 1702-P had been approved. "We did an analysis of the Upper Gila area without LIDAR from the ISC. Now that we have the LIDAR information, we will revisit the area and evaluate additional sites. I think Anthony has eliminated some sites. We are also refining sites in Virden and beginning to evaluate them. Other parts that we will be looking at in the next few weeks include Winn Canyon. We are looking at excavating above and below the canyon. Allen (Campbell, representing Gila Hot Springs Ditch Association) suggested we could use screw pumps effectively for Winn Canyon."
"We haven't received approval for work order 1703-P," Maxwell said. "For that we will look at the Bill Evans Lake infrastructure and how we could use it to further the objectives of the entity. Work Order 1704-P, not yet approved, is for a strategic plan to support the proposed action with the Bureau of Reclamation. We can provide white papers to use also with legislators and a business plan, with help from New Mexico State University, to justify the benefits. We are waiting for 1703-P and 1704-P to be accepted by the ISC."
Gutierrez asked Maxwell to report also on a meeting held with the ISC and AECOM (the engineering firm contracted with the ISC).
"At the Dec. 7 meeting, Occam Engineers met with the ISC and AECOM," Maxwell said. "We created a brief scope of work to meet the 30 percent design of the unit. We needed to define what we needed to do to support the NEPA process. Next Monday, we will meet with the ISC and Reclamation to find out what they need. We will start developing the scope of work."
Allred asked Maxwell when he would look at projects on the San Francisco River. Maxwell said he could do it this week.
"As far as I know, unless we need further information for NEPA on the San Francisco, " Gutierrez said, "we may not need further information for the design. We have an analysis for the Frisco from AECOM."
"What I'm expecting is better communication with you," Allred said to Gutierrez. "We want to know you're on top of it and with the Bureau of Reclamation and Occam. I would like Occam involved. I want to make sure the Frisco is not being dropped."
Joe Runyan, representing the Gila Farm Ditch, asked for some guidance on how the project is using gravity flow. "A lot of us want gravity flow in the interest of efficiency. Pumps can be a problem. It has been said that after 10 years, we will need another NEPA process. Should we streamline the project now or keep it broad?"
Maxwell said he will be looking primarily at gravity flow. "We are trying to do as much as possible with gravity flow. In the first phase, there will be pumping into Winn Canyon and farm ponds. They would use low-head pumps. Ranney wells are in Phase 2 and will require more pumping. I think Phase 1 will be this NEPA. We want to keep it simple."
Gutierrez noted the next scopes of work, 1703-P and 1704-P, need the ISC to fix the financial adjustment to transfer the money into professional services.
In new business, Shannon said talking points were being worked on using briefing language by Howard Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District, in the presentation he made to the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee and a brochure developed by the Gila-San Francisco Water Commission.
"Rep. Bealquin 'Bill' Gomez of the Agriculture and Water Committee has requested a document, titled something like 'As you learn about the New Mexico CAP Entity," Shannon said. "The legislators are getting misinformation, so they don't know what is going on. He requests it for a meeting of the committee during the first week of the session. I thought we had gotten the information to them at the interim meetings, but somehow since then, information out there has the committee members confused. We also need it for the Natural Resources Committee. We need to allow someone to put together the talking points."
Gutierrez concurred and said he had been contacted by Ryan Hedin from the Office of the Minority Leader and Rep. Gail Armstrong for a fact sheet and "where we are in the process. Armstrong wants to carry a memorial. I will provide the information."
Hutchinson noted that he had already sent a proposed memorial to Armstrong on behalf of the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District.
Bays asked that Hutchinson share his memorial document with all the members. Hutchinson asked that those wanting it contact him.
Shannon said she thought each member entity should create a document to support what the CAP Entity is doing.
CAP Entity Attorney Pete Domenici Jr. asked if Hutchinson's memorial language is the same as Sen. Pat Woods's.
"Identical," Hutchinson replied.
Gutierrez said Rep. Armstrong wants general information. "The information we provide will help Armstrong have a better idea of our process and to support a memorial."
"To protect us from ourselves," Runyan suggested, "we should have each reviewed by Mr. Domenici. I think it's at the core that we are focused on one purpose."
Domenici said the information needs to be provided to Gomez and Armstrong.
Hutchinson said Armstrong is his representative and she told him she and Woods had the language he had sent.
"In respect to Rep. Gomez and his committee, I would like to work with Anthony this week to send the information to Gomez," Domenici said. "I will run it by anyone else here and it can be provided to Armstrong and Woods, too."
Shannon said as soon as she finds out when the meeting with Armstrong is, she plans to attend and asked anyone else who could attend to also be there. "We need an official statement, so Gomez knows what is going on. Email your suggestions to me and Anthony."
"We will have it this week," Domenici said. "It will be easier for individual entities to pull something from it."
Hutchinson suggested each member entity craft its own resolution. "It's better to have more than one representing us. If you like our memorial, you can sign on to it. The problem is that we have not been proactive. What's happening is that we are active defensively, when we have only two minutes to oppose something. With a positive piece of legislation, we will get much more time for a fair hearing of our issues. The legislators don't know what our positions are."
Campbell concurred with what Domenici said. "His idea is better for us to speak as one voice. I don't think we need long comments from each entity. I look forward to seeing Howard's language and from others."
"I will let everyone know when the ag and water meeting will take place," Shannon said.
"The (legislative) session is likely to be dynamic on the CAP Entity," Domenici said. "There are likely things we don't know about. I am putting the members on notice to expect what we are doing on offense and that we may need to take action on other actions taking place. I think statements throughout the session are a good idea from these board entities."
He mentioned a water well recharge workshop taking place Jan. 18 in Albuquerque.
Shannon said she would like the entity to perform the executive director evaluation in closed session at the March meeting, as she will not be able to attend the February meeting, and Lee would be taking her place.
Gutierrez gave his executive report by phone. "I met with Occam and The Nature Conservancy. We discussed moving forward with the design of the diversion. We got Nature Conservancy feedback on concerns that will potentially have effects on the design and NEPA. I will continue to work on a presentation with legislators. Any of our legislation that makes it past committee, we should support with all our legislators and other legislators we know, including committee members for future committees it must go through. I have spoken with (Sen. Howie) Morales and (Rep. Rodolpho 'Rudy') Martinez. I will meet with them to make sure we are on the same page."
Upcoming meetings he will be taking part in include Jan. 8 with Reclamation and the ISC, and the Jan. 18 workshop on well recharge being put on by Daniel B. Stephens and Associates, "since we may use Freeport infrastructure and water for recharge."
"I will present to the ISC on Jan. 19," Gutierrez continued. "For most of this month, I will be in Albuquerque and Santa Fe."
Gabriel Ramos, representing Grant County, asked if Gutierrez and Domenici had started working on the JPA to address further projects.
"We have had preliminary meetings," Gutierrez said. "We have to make sure the language doesn't supersede our No. 1 priority, a diversion, and not conflict with our Freeport-McMoRan language. We stepped back a bit so we will maintain our No. 1 priority."
Ramos said: "I thought there were more member comments in favor of it. I want to see it happen."
"We have to have language that satisfies everyone," Gutierrez said. "We must meet every individual member entity's needs, because they must all approve it. I've been discussing it with Priscilla (Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director). We are just being careful with the language."
Shannon said Domenici has said the group has to be careful to have the proper verbiage in the document.
Ramos pushed some more. "Especially on the effluent projects. They are important to us."
Shannon said: "We will not drop the ball."
Dave McSherry, representing the city of Deming, asked for an update on the language for the JPA amendment next month.
"We were intending to have the draft language at this meeting," Gutierrez said. "There could potentially be issues about whether we might need to provide matching funds. I think it's good to do due diligence and support other potential funding. We have to address the issues of matching state funding with state funds and federal with federal."
"We understood we were supposed to bring the language to this meeting," Domenici said. "We did not have time to vet it with the ISC. Not only does it have to be unanimous with this board, but the ISC must approve it, too. We will send you language to allow board members to weigh in. I understand the time is critical for some members. But we have questions. Would we control the funds and manage them or will the ISC? There are three or four key components. With the legislative session beginning this month, it will be difficult to get with the ISC."
Runyan asked if it would be another bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy.
Domenici noted the previous ranking process with the Tier 1 and Tier 2 proposals with the ISC. "If we want to limit projects, which we should, we must set up criteria or we can hand them over to the ISC. I think a dollar limit may limit proposals. The board will have to decide whether they are comfortable with an assessment. Most of the projects the ISC already approved and has funding for haven't gone very far. The ISC makes projects work throughout the state. Maybe these projects are progressing, but not very quickly."
"I just want to make sure others can qualify for some of these things," Ramos said. "I want to make sure it's open-ended, not just to benefit the Gila Valley. We have to try to help each other out. Let's work together on other projects and get things done."
Gutierrez said there are other funding sources, "we can use as a model, such as the Water Trust Board. I was involved in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 process. Although we have procurement restrictions, we have to look at other models."
McSherry said many of the projects have been through other processes. If they are turned down by the Water Trust Board, "maybe we can be another source of funding."
Shannon asked members to send language suggestions to Gutierrez.
The final main item of business was a new agenda item, a Roundtable discussion for New Mexico CAP Entity members only.
Lee asked if Shannon has a plan for the executive director evaluation.
Shannon said she had received a copy of what the city of Deming does and had looked at the Hidalgo County process. "The city of Deming's is probably better. Gutierrez does his own self-evaluation and we work off that with questions you bring forward. All this is in executive session."
Hutchinson said he and Anthony had attended the state water plan group meeting. "I was interested in it. I often get frustrated. They have interests from all over the state. There were more than 200 people present. Creating a state water plan is a real task for the ISC to take the regional plans and create a state water plan. It should be a plan, but it has often ended up as policy statements. One of the stumbling blocks of the CAP Entity is to come up with a plan, because of different interests in the four counties. I hope this state plan will come up with some direction—here are the priorities; here are the projects we need to complete."
He also encouraged everybody when the draft of the report from New Mexico First comes out to review it. "There are several opportunities for everyone to input information into it and the state plan. I think we should look at this from the CAP Entity viewpoint."
Acting ISC Director John Longworth said the ISC is working with New Mexico First and hopefully a draft will be out by the end of January. He later reported in the meeting that the draft had just become available and would be posted to the ISC website within the next two weeks.
McSherry said he is familiar with the Mimbres Aquifer where there is a lot of pumping from great depths at great expense. "This water from the Gila is new water, which is very rare. I'm familiar with replacing water in the Mesilla Valley. The overuse of water has brought the aquifer level down many feet. We could dump all of Elephant Butte into the aquifer and it wouldn't bring it back up to the 1993 water table level. You have a lot of water regulation in the Gila Valley. If you put in a new home, you have what, half an acre-foot for only domestic use? Most homes in Deming get one acre-foot for domestic use. There is potential with this new water for new people to move into the Gila Valley. I know you want to keep the farming, but there are other uses for this new water."
Campbell said: "To the west of us, Arizona water laws are quite different. Texas has the right of capture, which they are doing on our border."
"I live in an area where we are precluded from putting in a hose bib outside for giving water to the dog or a horse," Campbell continued. "It is the most draconian way to handle water. Fortunately, the Gila River is free-flowing for the most part. I own a half-mile of frontage on the river. We have it flowing by, but we can't use it because of it going to Arizona. This is the only body in New Mexico working to increase water availability, so as long as the wind blows, we will have water. With improved efficiency and storing water, we can grow the economy. Without the two, we will be relegated to the backwater. We are the only ones who can get new water. It's my whole purpose of being here."
Shannon said taking the water at flood stage is not going to dry up the river. "Why not use it? Emphasize to the legislators in the Agriculture and Water Committee, and the Natural Resources Committee that flood is when we can take the water."
Campbell noted that water that comes down the river is that which is not used by nature. "Fires cause a lot of water flow. The water that falls is one-third percent of what comes out of the river. The water yield is the extra water that runs. If we have conservation, floodwater capture and habitat management, we have water. We aren't in habitat management, but the state should be."
The next regular NM CAP Entity meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6.