By Mary Alice Murphy
After preliminary items finished at the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity on Sept. 3, 2019, public comment was next. Chris Overlock, noted that he had no vested interest in the NM CAP Entity's proposed diversion.
"But I am angry that my money continues to be wasted on this unrealistic project," Overlock said. He then read a poem written about damming the Gila River.
Ron Troy said he is concerned about paying a lot of taxes on a project that is grossly underestimated. He also wanted to comment on remarks he had heard from past meetings where it was alleged that environmentalists have held up progress on the proposed action. "I take you back to the project in Owens Valley in California. The farmers went for it. An investigative reporter, a woman knew what would happen, but they didn't listen to her. Now all the water has gone to the municipalities and the Owens Valley is now a dry valley. If you divert all the water, you will have the same situation. I protect farm and ranch and biodiversity in the Rocky Mountain West. I hear Mr. (Ty) Bays [representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District] talking about how he is such a steward of the southwest willow flycatcher. When you divert all the water to your ditches, when you take the riparian area away, I hope to heck you will have better habitat. But don't confuse occupied habitat with preferred habitat. If that water was allowed to go down the river and flood the floodplains, the public would probably have a lot more flycatchers today."
He said the entity members need to think about doing their project in a systematic manner, thinking about stream flows in the river, "how to do it in the wake of climate change, how to do it better with respect to using less water and increasing production instead of greedily taking more water from future generations who would like to see a river that you and I grew up on. Why in the heck are you saddling future generations with a ton of debt because you guys underestimated how much it will cost, not to mention the ecological damage? Most dams in the Rocky Mountain West cost the taxpayers lots of money to mitigate adverse effects."
Troy continued saying the Northwest with its dams cost opportunities where the best fishing was on the Columbia, and other rivers and now people have to go to Alaska to catch a big salmon, because someone with political power saddled the taxpayers with huge debt, and "now they look back at where they went wrong. Your sense of pride can win this battle because you have a lot of money and can keep fighting for it. We get tired out here. You can't fight money and politics and that's what you guys have is a lot of money."
Howard Hutchinson, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District, said he was very familiar with the Owens Valley and suggested people get their hands on the book "Billion Dollar Blackjack," which is the story of the political corruption that took place in the Owens Valley, so that the water went to Los Angles. "It's similar to us. Our water is going to Maricopa County in Arizona—Phoenix. A lot of the water coming down the Colorado is going there—2 million plus acre-feet of water going through the Central Arizona Project every year. The movie producer of Chinatown took a lot of the information out of the Billion Dollar Blackjack about the political corruption on the Owens Valley. It wasn't the farmers that got together and surrendered their water rights. It was political corruption, and we can see it in the project we're working on."
Chairwoman Darr Shannon, representing the Hidalgo Soil and Water Conservation District said: "If we are not allowed to divert some of this water from the Gila River, it will go to Arizona and continue to make them wealthier."
CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez began the discussion on the business plan by deferring to Hutchinson to address his comments about the draft document.
Hutchinson pointed out grammatical errors and noted that some items in the document were not necessary as they were spelled out in the San Francisco business plan, which will be attached to the document.
He said adjudicated water rights are an asset, and the Arizona Water Settlements Act exchange water will come with an annual cost. "In some cases, the AWSA water is a better option. Distinction should be made between adjudicated and exchange water. In the San Francisco plan, we encourage senior water rights to remain in agriculture and not be transferred to other uses. When we transfer out of agricultural use, there may be unintended consequences."
CAP Entity Attorney Pete Domenici Jr. said he thought what was on page 10 was better stated on page 4 and that language should replace the similar language on page 10. "It should be broken into two paragraphs, one on adjudicated water and one on AWSA water."
Hutchinson agreed, and went on with his comments. "While domestic and municipal use are primary targets in Catron County for AWSA water, our policy is to discourage transfer of adjudicated water to domestic uses. I would like to see that in this document."
He continued by saying that on page 23, it seems to only talk about surface water, "but I think seepage will increase groundwater availability. That's why we didn't want Weedy Reservoir lined. It doesn't mean we use what is available, it means we have more availability of ground water. Wells can be close to the river. I think there are technological, physical and engineering issues. Groundwater is one of the stated purposes of having AWSA water."
Domenici said what he found confusing in the language was the term realized water. Gutierrez said the numbers come from Alternative B in the San Francisco. "Realized water I think means the total consumption and includes return flow. Once diverted, the water can get into the aquifer, but it's not clear how to calculate the time and when it's available according to the Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement."
Hutchinson said he thinks Alternative B allows direct-to-on-farm use, with the possibility of on-farm ponds. "It's an invented scenario for fiscal purposes, but not the reality of delivering water to the ditches."
"It's what we may be able to do, under the AECOM modeling," Gutierrez said. "Under future modeling, we recognize the San Francisco SWCD has identified a separate alternative."
Hutchinson noted that AECOM's figures are based on a completely different and much larger project. He said he tried to wrap his head around why it would cost $61,561.83 a year for operations, maintenance and replacement in the San Francisco. "We only have two valves, one to the west and one to the east. That water is going to run on one side in a pipeline and on the other side to a ditch, which has been managed close to 100 years. These are consciously conservative estimates, but they are ridiculous. It doesn't take into account innovation, conservatism, and the ingenuity of residents in Catron County. It seems to be a high number. I would like to see a breakdown."
Stantec Engineer Dave Maxwell said he has a copy of the breakdown, which includes pumping costs, operations and maintenance and replacement. "We still have pump replacement there, but not a pump, so that should come out. That would make it $43,000 per year on the San Francisco. This is only an average. Some years would be more and some less. Yes, it is conservative."
Allen Campbell, representing the Gila Hotsprings Ditch Association said: "Our irrigation association has about 27 acres. We have reinvested over the years for less than $1,000 a year. We have one diversion and a ditch a mile-and-a-half long. Costs are not tied to acreage. There is a unit cost, but it is not proportional to the number of acres. A dam is a dam. To push one up takes 15 to 20 minutes to adjust. These numbers are estimates. I don't put a dozer into the river. We, the family, use a four-wheel drive tractor, and in an hour, we have our spring entry water at the head gate. I think water for storage needs to be managed by the local ditch association. There may be payment for the work, but it should be low. We have to cover our portion of expenses."
Van "Bucky" Allred, representing Catron County, said the San Francisco River currently has two diversions comparable to the proposed Spurgeon —the WS and the Pleasanton. "Is there data from them that you could use?"
Maxwell said he didn't know if there are numbers available on the two. "I know a lot of work has been done on then WS."
Allred said the WS has a private owner, one man. "There is a small group on the Pleasanton. These numbers in this document seem extreme. Ask Mr. (Lloyd) Valentine (New Mexico Officer of the State Engineer District 3 manager) if he has data."
John Sweetser, representing Luna County, said an estimate on page 30, ending in 98 cents "means nothing to have this degree of accuracy" for an estimate.
Gutierrez said the number addresses entering into contracts to take care of ditches. "These are hardened structures. We have to take into consideration that AWSA water will have to be measured daily on the diversion and at the delivery point. I think the engineers tried to estimate numbers and established that they could be much less. These estimates, in addition to operations and maintenance, also include replacement costs. Maybe we can get Dave to run better numbers."
Maxwell said he does have spreadsheets. "This is just a summary of the anticipated costs."
Campbell said what he was about to say was partially a question. "I think we will need third party monitoring of water delivery. Telemetry is $14,000 a year, but it gives you a permanent record. Gauges have permanent records. I believe for a ditch it would be about the same. Is the ditch included?"
Gutierrez said it is included in the operational costs, but the costs are more for the entity itself when it will be contracting the ditch users. "They may not be reflective of what's actually needed. People will be paying for the water and they want to make sure they get the water they pay for."
Domenici noted that when third parties look at the document, they will try to pull the numbers out. "I think the capital costs are comfortable. We have no control over the exchange costs, but the O and M costs are the heart of the document. Stantec is signing off on this as an engineering report. This is mixing engineering and business. These costs will potentially be the headline of this document and shouldn't be. We will be delivering water to the ditch users, and they will be controlling the operations and maintenance costs by taking care of it as much as possible. These numbers are heavy burdens for users, but they are conservative. I'm trying to get this document finalized, so we can send a letter to the Secretary of the Interior with this attached, preferably this week. We will try to explain and reduce the numbers where possible."
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said he had an issue with the weeding and mowing costs on page 30. "We are going to use our existing canals. We already have people hired to weed and mow. I would like to see these numbers looked at more closely." He also referred to page 4, where it says amounts are based on 30 percent return flow. "We've been talking 40 percent up to 50 percent return flow."
Gutierrez said in modeling that percentage was used. "We looked at the project as a whole. The Upper Gila, if it will be using drip or sprinkler irrigation, that reduces return flow."
Maxwell said the number assumes 75 percent irrigation efficiency, such as sprinklers. "The rest of the return flow takes into account seepage and evaporation."
"We have sprinkler, drip and flood irrigation in the Virden Valley," Lee said. "I would like that number looked at."
Maxwell said it was presumed the storage ponds would need mowing costs.
"We have cows that can take care of that," Lee chuckled.
Campbell suggested mowing be put into a line item, with the note that it is a high estimate and there is potential to reduce the costs. "It's very important we show the factors being used that can be reduced. Farmers will be interested in lowering costs. If we line the ditches, it will cut down on maintenance. There is potential for these amounts to go lower."
Maxwell said he knows that in Catron County a lot of the work is done by volunteers. "That would decrease the costs, but we don't know by how much volunteer work will decrease them. We can say that costs will decrease with volunteer work."
Campbell said on the Gila Hotsprings Ditch: "We share costs on the main ditch, and I cover costs on my feeder ditch. We have a family tractor. I'm trying to say that these numbers are not real life. It's like hiring someone to change your light bulb."
Maxwell agreed that applicable ditches would take over the operations. "Maybe we need to talk to the ditches and find out how much they spend annually."
Gutierrez said the "operation under patrol" is recommended to determine how much water is being taken. "What this doesn't recognize is that the act (AWSA) already addresses operating costs. What if we put in a paragraph to recognize what entities are already doing? So that we recognize existing costs? We will try to switch scenarios to do a better job of showing what operations are now."
Hutchinson said: "I want to look at the bottom line, which is if I can afford $750 per irrigated acre (presumed to be three acre-feet of water). We did the same thing with the San Francisco business plan, where we figured it would cost $581 per acre irrigated, plus the exchange costs. I don't think it's a mistake to use high figures, but they need to be realistic. When I figured the $750 per eligible acreage of 1,760 acres in the Glenwood area, it came out to a really scary figure—$1,321,760. But only two figures matter—how much water will be delivered to the user and how much it will cost per acre-foot. That's the bottom line of this. Maybe the executive summary needs to hone into this figure. I appreciate your putting in the study that came from California." He mentioned costs for new water in California in the 2014 study ranged from a low of $25 to the higher figure of $1,456 for a water right for an acre-foot. For conservation, it was about $137 for the acre-foot of water saved, with the highest $4,580. Recycling ranged from a low of $396 to as high as $5,800. "The study did the calculations based on municipalities in California getting new water. When we're looking at say $250 per acre-foot, that's nothing compared to what California is paying. I think utilizing the high numbers doesn't hurt us a bit when you look at the comparisons. We're looking at fairly cheap water. It's too bad we didn't get this done sooner, because Deming could sure have used 3,000 acre-feet to create 300 new jobs. If we don't acquire this water, we will be doing a disservice to the area."
Domenci pointed out comparisons with the San Juan-Chama project are great for capital costs, "but only we have exchange costs. I want a realistic O and M cost. I don't want to be arguing that farmers will not pay these estimates. Some of these costs we are stuck with, but I want to be able to sell this. I prefer not to be saddled with these unrealistic estimates. I would rather the capital costs go to fencing and putting in gauges, but not into operations and maintenance. I would like the patrolling costs to be reduced also."
Hutchinson said: "We have those figures and we need to bring them out and emphasize them. We know we can have the figures for the WS and Pleasanton and put them up front. Even though we have the conservative figures, we can show these are what our current ditch users spend."
"This is an annual cost," Campbell said. "Best case will be harvesting water for a few days in February, March and April. Patrolling will be the biggest issue to keep track of the water out of the head gate and then distributing it. We don't be doing that all year, but only over short periods of time."
Gutierrez said that section could be rewritten.
Hutchinson said the major points should be focused in the executive summary. "There may be a couple of staff members of the agencies reading through the whole document, but most will read only the executive summary."
Gutierrez noted the chart on page 14. "The actual amount of available water is more than 10,000 acre-feet, so that may reduce the cost per acre-foot."
Lee said that it wouldn't be possible to save and store 10,000 acre-feet with $45 million.
"No, but the maximum amount available is 10,000 plus," Gutierrez said.
Runyan said that confirms that the most economical way to utilize the water is to divert from groundwater. "Silver City gets one-third of its water from the Franks Field. Explain to me how Silver City can buy AWSA water. How do big users use the point of diversion such as a well?"
Gutierrez said the Hutchinson has envisioned similar uses in Catron County. "We've been trying to utilize surface water, but only a few times a year."
Domenici commented on the Globe Equity Act, which governs part of the Virden Valley. "They have two technical committees, and it has taken them about a decade to get on board with the AWSA. We should probably consider triggering a technical committee as soon as possible. They will have to do the return flow calculations. We probably want to establish the technical committee before we start diverting. That's how you get to the bottom of how to divert AWSA water other than just surface water. There are all kinds of benefits and complexities to well diversions."
Campbell suggested approving the business plan as discussed. "I think we have hashed out the problems. We should approve it with the understanding it will address our issues." He asked that someone else create the language of the motion.
Lee made the motion to approve the final business plan with the understanding that the comments would be incorporated. Hutchinson seconded it.
In old business Domenici said he sent a three-paragraph letter to Secretary of the Interior David Berhnardt to request an extension on the record of decision.
"I told him we would be submitting a more detailed letter after this meeting," Domenici said. "I will include the business plan, maps and photos. We will use existing photos."
Hutchinson moved to utilize the long letter that had been discussed at the last meeting, with the business plan, the maps and photos. It was seconded and approved.
In new business, Gutierrez asked for approval of a line item transfer in the budget to cover his and Domenici's flights to Washington D.C. to request the extension. "We are taking it from non-capital equipment to pay for the last trip and future expenses," Gutierrez said. It was approved.
During the executive report and member roundtable discussion, Gutierrez said he received a document from the Bureau of Reclamation, with Oct. 7 as the requested deadline for comments. "It is from Leslie Meyers. We will get it out to the members today. Please look at it and make comments. It's an agreement we have to approve for the cultural portion of the environmental impact statement."
Shannon said comments were needed as soon as possible, so the members could approve it at the next meeting. Domenici noted that no one had to sign anything.
Gutierrez said he had met with Sen. Martin Heinrich's staff to review the potential project areas. "I think it gave them a better idea how we may potentially operate, and how we plan to take care of the ecology and keep costs down. I appreciate their coming here. I still want to sit with Senator Heinrich when we go to Washington. Face-to-face is invaluable."
Hutchinson noted that the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission had basically its organizational meeting with new members last week. "I went up for it and talked individually to each ISC member. With the exception of the new Navajo member, I know most of the them. Tanya Trujillo was chief counsel for the ISC during the AWSA negotiation, so she may be the most knowledgeable of our project outside of the new state engineer. I signed up for public comment. Norm Gaume also gave public comment and basically said it was a vast conspiracy among the ISC, the Bureau of Reclamation and the engineers to lie to the public. He said everything we're saying are lies. I can assure him and you I am not engaged in any conspiracy. We must make sure we get our facts straight for our future. They did approve Hurley to get the $2.1 million for the second well to be drilled. It looks like Hurley will get its water project done and will use the USDA funding it was awarded."
He said he understood the upper Colorado states are looking at more dams at high elevations. "I think we will see a shift to higher elevation storage, which lowers evaporation losses. The technicalities are much the same as what we're looking at here. It was 1994, when the concept was first expressed to look at high elevation storage for the West."
Dominique Work, ISC attorney said she wanted to clarify what Hutchinson was saying.
"What's going on is the all seven Colorado Basin states are working together," Work said. "Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah signed an agreement if the Secretary of the Interior will make storage in already existing reservoirs available to other states through a management program to send down to Lake Powell. There will be no new dams or reservoirs. Flaming Gorge, Aspinall, Navajo Reservoir and Lake Powell are the existing reservoirs that will be subject to call."
She also clarified the Hurley issue. "The funds were already available to Hurley. They were earmarked for a specific project with one well. We entered into an amendment to the current contract to allow for funding to be spent also on a second well."
Hutchinson thanked her for the clarifications and noted the report is Water in the West.
He also reminded the CAP Entity members that the Legislative Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee would meet in Silver City in October.
The next regular NM CAP Entity meeting is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1 at the Grant County Administration Center.