Stormwater Coalition Field Day
Community Service Opportunity
Rio Grande Project draft Environmental Impact Statement
Is DROP a Possible Solution to Southern New Mexico’s Water Woes?

Stormwater Coalition Field Day

Special Report by Elephant Butte Irrigation District
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The South Central NM Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition) met recently at the Hatch Community Center to discuss stormwater management and planning for projects of importance to the Hatch Valley area. Thirty five people attended, representing several entities working together to take action on both current maintenance issues and future plans for two primary projects involving the Placitas and Rincon Arroyos as well as other stormwater issues. Zack Libbin, Elephant Butte Irrigation District Engineer and Chairman of the Stormwater Coalition facilitated the discussion. He stated that the Stormwater Coalition meets to share information and this month was discussing a project on the Rincon Arroyo previously prioritized as a project they would like to help facilitate. "The Coalition doesn't have money or equipment to do such projects," he says, "but we are a coalition of entities that can get such things done." The meeting included representation from the Village of Hatch, the Dona Ana County (DAC) Flood Commission, DAC Office of Emergency Management, DAC Engineering Department, Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Dona Ana SWCD, Sierra SWCD, International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), DAC Local Emergency Planning Committee, the City of Sunland Park, Paseo del Norte Watershed Council, NM Water Resources Research Institute, NMSU, and a few local engineering companies.

Prior to the meeting, Coalition members examined the Placitas Arroyo, noting a severely eroded berm between the arroyo and the railroad right of way upstream of Highway 26. John Gwynne, Engineer Supervisor with the Dona Ana County Flood Commission described the potential danger, "Drought kills off vegetation further up in the watershed. Then, late in the monsoon season, floods push all that down into the arroyos and it causes a lot of damage. We're expecting some pretty ugly storms towards the end of the monsoon season. The Coalition tries to get all the entities together to talk about it. We're still limited by the fact that a lot of this is BLM land." Conrad Keyes, Chairman of the Paso del Norte Watershed Council, said equipment is available that can be used to do repairs on the berm but permission from BLM and others will be required. He is concerned about August and September storms causing potential flooding. Paul Dugie, Director of the DAC Flood Commission said, "We're probably going to have to be talking to BLM for another emergency permit to get that one berm up there built because there's not much of it left."

As residents remember, the Placitas Arroyo has a history of flooding. In fact, 10 years ago this month marks the most recent flood that saw the area declared a Federal Disaster. To many this just seems like yesterday and they still reference events as "before the flood" or "after the flood." The Village of Hatch recently established an MOU with EBID to get maintenance work done on the Placitas Arroyo, an ongoing process. EBID plans to execute some of that maintenance this year and is waiting on an official request from the Village to begin. The district plans to meet annually with the village to examine and discuss pre-monsoon maintenance. Property boundaries have been staked out for the work and EBID expects to be able to take action soon.

The next step in improving the Placitas Arroyo is planning and design to ensure that both the arroyo channel and its banks are designed for potential flows of, for example, 50 or 100 year storms. Engineers at the meeting provided input to this process and there is ongoing discussion about how to accomplish it. Gwynne outlined the scope of work and reminded listeners that state standards for procurement must be observed; noting that one reason for the Coalition meeting was to familiarize people with the process of getting this work done. The criticality of the improvements to the Placitas Arroyo also ties to funding issues associated with a new dam planned for the Spring Canyon Arroyos, which is being designed by the US Army Corp of Engineers. He says, "The community has to be reasonably safe from flooding for them to fund that project."

Dugie pointed out several hurdles to accomplishing the Placitas Arroyo work. "It's a very large watershed, and it's going to be interesting how we attack this," he said, "This isn't only the Village of Hatch, it's also the NM Dept. of Transportation, the irrigation district, it's also, believe it or not, FEMA The engineering firm that does this will have a very interesting situation to deal with." He said, "We got caught in the rules and regulations changes after Katrina and basically we went back to square one."

The Coalition hopes to move the project along with help from multiple entities, matching funds and labor to get some of the work done. Gwynne said "A lot of things are tied around this Placitas Arroyo project. We're trying to help the Village as much as we can." Dugie added, "We really don't want this to drop, these are two important projects for the Village of Hatch; after they're done we'll be able to come back and do the FEMA studies required for levee accreditation. Both projects have to be to the FEMA standards as well and get rid of a considerable portion of the flood plain for the village." The entire Village of Hatch is in the 100 year flood plain.

Dugie further updated the group on the Hatch Dam/Flood Control Project of the Spring Canyon Arroyos. That project is in process Dugie said, "Until the design is complete we cannot obtain that property we want to make sure we have plenty of land up there. But that's where [the dam] is going to be, then the outfall will be gated so that we can empty it into the Colorado Spur Drain." The water will enter EBID's system and they need to have control over the opening and closing of the gate. EBID Manager Gary Esslinger asked whether the design will include enlarging the culverts from the dam outflow to the river. "That is for future phases, which is why it is gated," responded Dugie, "We could have gone with an adjustable gate on it but those are projects that are going to have to come through colonias funding or flood commission funding because of at least five bottlenecks between the dam outfall and the river."

The DAC Flood Commission has been working on a new dam for the Spring Canyon Arroyo to protect Hatch since the late 1990's. It has been projected that the Spring Canyon Arroyos are an even bigger threat to the Village than the Placitas because it doesn't flow to the river directly. The storm of 2006 just happened to hit the Placitas Arroyo watershed the worst. The Coalition heard a presentation from the Army Corps about the project in Hatch in November 2014. Gwynne explained, "The dam is actually sized for a 500 year storm instead of a 100 year storm. The purpose is so we could use a gate. They wouldn't let us do a gating without that larger structure. It's about $600,000 to upsize it to make it where we can come in at a later date and improve all these crossings."

Susie Downs with the Caballo SWCD updated the Coalition on the rehabilitation of the Garfield Dam. Plans for rehabbing the project started back in 2003. Like so many in the district, the dam was originally constructed to protect agricultural lands in the event of a 50 year storm event. Original plans for fully rehabilitating the dam were scrapped after the design by the NRCS made it clear that costs would be too large for the sponsors. Instead, after securing funding the district began working with other agencies in late 2015 to implement the sediment removal process to bring the structure back to its original 1959 design. In April, 2016 the District began work to remove the built up sediment. Downs stated that the process required moving 128 loads a day at an estimated 43 cubic yards a load. The process took just 37 days. By June 3rd an estimated 12.5 vertical feet, approximately 203,648 cubic yards of sediment, had been removed from behind the dam and transported to a storage site at a cost of $167,743. The structure is now protecting the land below to the level it was originally designed.

After distributing aerial maps of the area to show the sediment problem in the Rincon Arroyo and Rio Grande, Libbin said, "It's a challenge to maintain. If we could keep that sediment up on the watershed or trap it elsewhere where it can be maintained we'd be in better shape. It would be less expensive for IBWC to maintain the river channel there."

Local farmer Bill Porter, who owns land adjacent to the Rincon Arroyo, joined the site tour and described how he has tried to keep the arroyo in working order so it doesn't top over the banks and ruin his fields. "It's a problem, all that sediment from up above, it's just sand," he says, "We've come in here and started in the middle and tried to open the center up. That sediment comes in and it'll crown and send that water to the sides and then it fills back up. It's a lot of maintenance, a lot of work." If the arroyo overflows it not only affects Porter's fields but the Village of Rincon and the Village's Wasteway Treatment Facility among other areas. Libbin noted, "Some kind of armor is needed on those banks to make sure the arroyo stays within its banks and doesn't continually widen itself." He explained part of the proposed project, "Upstream and downstream cutoff walls, sidewalls would create a sediment traps that can be cleaned out every year or two. Sediment removed could be disposed at a nearby private land location and could be part of the potential solution to the river channel maintenance problem."

Project goals include improving watershed health by slowing down and retaining sediment on the watershed, capturing sediment before it reaches the narrow portion of the arroyo or the Rio Grande, accurately measurement of water flow at Kit Carson Road (EBID has a meter in this area and will be working with NMSU to come up with a better metering method), estimation of captured sediment, providing flood protection along the arroyo and maybe even improving habitat near the Rio Grande.

Esslinger and Libbin have met with BLM previously to discuss this watershed project and installing rain gauges on the watersheds to provide precipitation data to aid in a variety of work, including monitoring watershed health and planning for stormwater flows. BLM has agreed to work with EBID and the Stormwater Coalition to prioritize the watershed health of the Rincon Arroyo.

To highlight the need for collaborative upstream sediment control projects Libbin quoted from a letter written by the Commissioner of the IBWC (the Federal agency responsible for maintaining the river channel) Edward Drusina, "Sediment inflows into the river may impact various aspects of the Rio Grande channelization project. For example, sediment deposits may decrease the flood conveyance capacity of the channelization project and increase flood risk to the joint communities; decrease conveyance efficiency of irrigation water to downstream stakeholders such as EBID, EP#1, and Mexico; impact surface flows available downstream and may impact groundwater quality."

EBID, IBWC and the Caballo SWCD are threeway partners in maintaining dams in the area Libbin says. This is the case with almost all EBID sponsored dams; the District helps maintain them in partnership with other entities. "EBID only has sole responsibility for four or five," he says, "We are trying to come up with a cooperative solution to help manage the sediment here. I think the sediment capture upstream is the most effective way if we can keep those minerals on the watershed that's our best option. An upstream sediment capture location maintained annually will go a long ways to helping with a solution." Most of the areas flood control dams were built with funding from the Soil Conservation Service (now NRCS) for exactly these reasons, sediment capture and flood control. Almost all were built to protect farm land by reducing the annual flooding and to promote soil conservation.

The group discussed several ideas for maintenance of the Rincon Arroyo. Libbin says, "One idea is to widen that intersection where the arroyo intersects the river to create an alluvial fan so the sediment drops out before it hits the river channel. The alluvial fan is nature's way of depositing sediment if we could get it to slow down and drop out upstream it wouldn't clog up the river." Potential partners for this project might include NMDOT, BNSF and NRCS beyond those represented at the meeting. Dugie brainstormed that Rincon may be eligible for state funding because it is classified as a Colonia; there is also potential to go to FEMA and obtain hazard mitigation funding.

Esslinger discussed the possibility of putting in a sediment capture pond above Interstate 25 where it bottlenecks under the bridge. Libbin pointed out the numerous arroyos east of the Rincon Arroyo are repeatedly burying the rail road tracks in sediment and EBID has discussed collaborating on remedies to this problem. One possible option might be to redirect the water away from the rail road tracks and towards the Rincon Arroyo.

Libbin closed by asking how the Coalition can measure success with this project. It was agreed that reduced flood risk, reduced river maintenance costs and reduced velocity will all help to decrease erosion. He challenged the group to keep working on ideas for the project and led some of the organizations to pursue some of the parts to the projects.

Community Service Opportunity

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The Stormwater Coalition meeting discussed cooperative trash cleanup of flood control facilities in the Hatch area. BLM brought to the group's attention the free "No Throw" app that has been used successfully to identify and eliminate illegal dumping sites across Dona Ana County. Use of the app is moving into other counties also. The group was encouraged to take advantage of funding available to hold community service days and dispose of illegally dumped trash. This is a great opportunity for individuals and service groups throughout the area to show community pride. Just as any land that becomes an eyesore due to illegal dumping, the area's critical flood control facilities need to be cleaned up and getting community involvement can help reduce the illegal dumping. Flood control dams must be kept trash free to work properly. Debris can be moved easily in floodwater and lodge in the inlet structures that normally allow dams to drain slowly. Downstream debris can clog bridges and other structures, causing water that normally would flow through to back up and become a danger to people and property.

Zack Libbin with EBID said, "There are some great opportunities around Hatch to work together to get rid of trash. Trying to get the community to buy into keeping areas like Salem Dam, for example, clean is important." He and others are concerned about the quantity of trash in addition to sediment that is filling up behind this dam. He says, "We'd like to pursue reducing trash by working with community." The Coalition has been in discussion with BLM to work together on this and EBID recently joined the DAC Illegal Dumping Partnership.

A BLM spokesman reported that this year "We hired 5-6 kids and they picked up 300-500 tons of trash in 60 days. It's an enormous problem in this area; dams are where a lot of this stuff ends up." The "No Throw" app is available for both android and apple to help people notify authorities of dumped materials. Illegal Dumping can also be reported by calling 1-877-NO-THROW

Dumping fees are waived and free roll-offs can be provided. On community service days local merchants often donate water and food to support efforts to beautify and improve community safety.

Rio Grande Project draft Environmental Impact Statement

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To view the Notice of Availability and Notice of Public Hearings for the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Continued Implementation of the 2008 Operating Agreement for the Rio Grande Project, New Mexico and Texas Click here. To view the draft document use this link.

Is DROP a Possible Solution to Southern New Mexico’s Water Woes?

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Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s Depletion Reduction and Offset Program or DROP policy: interview with water law specialist Dr. Lisa Henne
by Karen Ray for EBID

R – Describe Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s DROP policy and how you see it working in the District.

H – DROP is a policy or program that would allow municipal and industrial (M & I) water users in the Lower Rio Grande to enter into forbearance agreements with EBID members in order to get groundwater offsets.

The program is structured for M & I users who are groundwater users and either already need offsets for their groundwater pumping or will in the future. Essentially the way this works is that an EBID farmer would agree to forbear his water use on a parcel and not pump groundwater onto it. They would also move their surface water onto parcels they have that are still in production or lease their surface water to other EBID members, reducing the amount of groundwater pumping that those parcels would need and making it available for someone else’s use.

R – In order to make that economically attractive to the farmer what might the pricing scenarios look like?

H –Pricing would be determined with cooperation from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). The starting point is whatever the local market rate is for M & I use; they do an analysis of market rate in a particular area. The BOR utilizes a federal policy to implement this type of transfer or change of use.

R – Has this process started in the district yet?

H –Yes, the policy was developed with the EBID Board of Directors, whose members represent each area of the district. At a recent workshop on water banking hosted by NMSU’s Water Resources Research Institute, University of Arizona Professor Bonnie Colby’s presentation discussed that you have to figure out what you need for your location; what your issues are, what your hydrology looks like and what your water rights look like, which is what we had done. We walked through the entire process with the EBID board, determining the types of decisions they needed to make. EBID presented DROP at the 2016 Growers Meetings to give its members an opportunity to learn about it and voice any concerns or questions.

We’re also working with the BOR on implementing what is called a conversion contract so that we can implement DROP. When you have a Reclamation project that is authorized for irrigation only, which is the case with the Rio Grande Project, in order to change the purpose of water from irrigation to some other use, M & I in this case, you have to enter into a conversion contract to do it. This protects the integrity and purpose of the project.

R – Is there a projected implementation date?

H – We want to get it rolling now but we have to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because this would be a federal action. The BOR will look at this and make a determination on what the appropriate environmental review is. It could be an Environmental Assessment or it could be an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). They have to look at what they think is appropriate and that can take a couple of years. There is already an EIS that’s being finalized for the 2008 Operating Agreement so some of the ground work needed for NEPA compliance has already been done and could help speed up the process.

R – Would EBID administer the DROP program?

H – Yes, we’ve envisioned EBID having an oversight role in the contracting process with Reclamation, based on lessons learned in other irrigation districts. One function of the district would be to track and monitor the parcels to ensure that water is not applied to parcels that are being fallowed under the program and that nothing is being grown on that land. The ditch riders would monitor this using the District’s mapping software as part of their duties. Parcels enrolled for fallowing in any given year would be delineated on the map so the ditch rider would be able to see on the ground what shouldn’t be irrigated, either by a well or surface water. EBID does not have jurisdiction over the supplemental wells so another role for EBID would be to communicate with the Office of the State Engineer about which parcels have been enrolled in a forbearance agreement each year.

R – What happens to land that is under a forbearance agreement?

H – One of the things we’re working on is a land management plan for enrolled parcels. We want to make sure that fallowed parcels don’t end up going to weeds and creating problems for other growers. We’ve worked up basic land management practices that people who are participating in the program would need to comply with so that dust and weeds do not become an issue. EBID would be a fiscal agent as well. If somebody is not complying with the agreement, either regarding land management or leaving it fallow and not irrigating it, then EBID could withhold payment. So the District will play both a monitoring and enforcement role. Although this does add some administrative burden and expense, the cost will be built into the price and should be relatively easy to implement using existing software like Tru–Point that already helps EBID and its members keep track of water use. EBID has a fundamental concern with protecting the viability of its portion of the Rio Grande Project. You can’t run an irrigation district if you have huge areas being dried up; that was part of the rationale for putting limits on how long people could put a certain parcel in. People can enroll year after year but will need to do rotational fallowing.

R – How did EBID develop this policy?

H – We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so I looked at what other districts had done and it became clear that Palo Verde Irrigation District in Blyth, CA was a model that several other entities were modifying to meet their own particular needs. We went on a field trip to Palo Verde so that our board members could talk to their board members and farmers about how it really worked at a practical level. EBID was concerned about getting feedback from participating farmers and not just looking at things on paper. The Palo Verde board members were overall happy with the program. There are some really key differences between our case and theirs; one, Palo Verde is not a Reclamation project so they didn’t have to do a conversion contract the way we’ll have to do. Another difference is that they were actually delivering wet water. Although that is where the template came from we made a lot of modifications because we’re trying to address groundwater depletion and provide a mechanism for people to be able to get groundwater offsets. We are trying to essentially come up with a solution to address depletions to Rio Grande Project surface water by the M&I community by managing groundwater pumping of participating EBID members. This is a much better situation as far as groundwater depletion than if both parties were pumping water; we’re trying to figure out a way to reduce that. EBID is trying to maintain the river and groundwater aquifer, and everybody in the Lower Rio Grande will benefit from that.

R – What kind of questions do you anticipate from growers regarding how the DROP policy would work in the Lower Rio Grande?

H – We have already fielded a number of questions from our presentations to our members. One issue is how permanent crop farmers could participate because you can’t fallow a pecan orchard. We put in a provision that would allow multiple land owners to form a group and enter into an agreement to fallow as a group. They would work out their own arrangement internally but as a group they would still fall within the 20% in the policy. This means that a farmer who grows vegetables or some other non-permanent crop could enter into a side agreement with a pecan farmer to do their fallowing for them. It makes it more flexible and inclusive for EBID members to be able to participate. The question of transferring water to other agriculture users has also come up. This program isn’t structured to do that. It’s important for people to understand that this is not a single solution. It is not the only thing that needs to be done in the Lower Rio Grande or that could be done in terms of having a water market or a water bank. It’s a start, but it does not solve everything and there’s still going to be a need for other solutions to be developed. It’s going to take everybody doing something. As an aside, there was an interesting study done at the University of Arizona. I wouldn’t extrapolate too far from it yet but they looked at crop production after fallowing and found improved yield on ground that had been fallowed for a couple of years. It wasn’t a huge increase but it’s possible that fallowing might be good for the soil and productivity as well. I don’t think it’s too farfetched.

R – What do you feel should be brought out in public discussion about this opportunity?

H – The fact that this is not the entire solution for water issues in the Lower Rio Grande. I’m really proud of EBID for taking the initiative to do something and think the district is really progressive in the way they look at these things. We worked really hard on this for over a year. It might not be perfect and it doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start. At the WRRI workshop on water banking local producer Robert Faubion, also a member of the EBID board of directors, said, "We don’t expect that we came up with something perfect but we’re trying and we’ll listen to people’s concerns."

Rio Grande wave front north of Hatch, NM at 8:00 pm May 25th, 2014. Photographed by Zack Libbin.
This photo and images on the main page were enhanced by Darrol Shillingburg.
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