State of the Aquifer: Update with Groundwater Hydrologist Erek Fuchs
National Ag Day: Thank a Farmer
The Road Less Traveled: EBID and the Roads Act
Community Agencies Conduct Dam Breach/Flooding Table Top Exercise
Winter Care and Feeding of the EBID Irrigation System

Older Articles

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?

State of the Aquifer: Update with Groundwater Hydrologist Erek Fuchs

EBID Report
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The valley is beginning to green up, spring winds remind us the season is changing and farmers are managing early crops, irrigated with groundwater before the surface water season begins.

Groundwater Hydrologist Erek Fuchs with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District recently discussed groundwater trends with the EBID Board of Directors in a report on the Rincon/Hatch and Mesilla Valley aquifers. Working closely with EBID's Technology Director, Patrick Lopez, and a team of other specialists and engineers at the District, he compiled and analyzed data from monitoring wells throughout the region. He explains that he uses Geospatial modeling based on groundwater table elevation measurements with precision instruments to calculate where and to what extent changes in shallow aquifer storage within the EBID are occurring on an annual basis."

His assessment of 2016 groundwater trends is encouraging. He notes that his work focuses on the annual end of year net change in the shallow alluvium in recent years and said "variation within the year, particularly during the active irrigation season is important to keep an eye on, but it is the comparison of year end to year end response of the aquifer in December of each year, when irrigation pumping has largely ceased and the water table reaches a new relative equilibrium, that we then can see what the changes in shallow aquifer storage have been." He points out, "Pumping effects at depths below the shallow alluvium where aquifer storage properties are different may not be realized at the water table for a number of years, but will tend to persist much longer."

Hatch/ Rincon Valley

As residents know, there isn't much of an aquifer in this area. Fuchs says, "The aquifer there is really little more than an extension of the river bed itself, expanding spatially into the adjacent floodplain to a limited extent, but is otherwise a relatively narrow and very shallow system comprised almost exclusively of alluvium sediments. Very different, especially in terms of depth, than what we have down here in the Mesilla. They've only got about 55 feet on average of saturated thickness to work with."

Fuchs examined data from EBID's 13 monitoring sites in the Hatch/Rincon Valley as well as from several USGS sites, giving a good overview of the system. In consultation with EBID's Operations Director, James Narvaez, they found that in 2016 there were almost 16,000 acres irrigated in this area, a small reduction from the typical 17,000 acres in active cultivation in the Hatch/Rincon Valley. The average groundwater table elevation decline over the last seven years is presently just over two feet. This may not seem like much, but is very important in a system that doesn't have much aquifer thickness to spare to begin with. Fuchs says this is nevertheless an improvement compared to just a couple of years ago, showing that the system is currently gaining. The cumulative net storage loss since 2010 is now at about 12,500 acre-feet. Modest gains in storage began in 2014 and persisted through this last year. "That's a very good thing because they needed to see some relief up there," he says, "In 2013, with the very scant surface water allotment of only 3.5 acre-inches per acre we had then, most of the growers up in the Rincon Valley hit a wall of sorts. Given the shallow, narrow system that they have to work with and limited groundwater in storage under to begin with, that is understandable."

There were gains throughout the system in 2016, and EBID's GIS Analyst, Dennis McCarville, worked with Fuchs in creating maps to illustrate where and to what extent the changes in shallow aquifer storage have occurred over the last several years. Fuchs says the farming community is adapting to the harsh realities of drought conditions and noted, "We're seeing some stabilization [in groundwater elevations] in the Rincon, which is encouraging. I think a big part of the reason for this is a change in cropping patterns. There has been adjustment from double or triple crops to single crops, staying with the mainstays mostly of chile, onions, and some cotton."

He also credits captured stormwater with contributing to gains in storage, pointing out that although a deficit situation remains, particularly between Garfield and Salem, that same area saw some of the greatest gains in 2016. "That's encouraging," he says, "It's apparent that the farming community up there is aware of where their problems are and they're addressing those by changing cropping patterns and making adjustments to the distribution of pumping."

Salts remain an issue in the Rincon Valley, and have become somewhat worse in recent years. Impeded drainage due to lack of channel maintenance in the Rio Grande is a major factor in salt accumulation. Zach Libbin, EBID's Engineer, worked with Fuchs in coordination with USGS to facilitate re-drilling of a shallow monitoring site in that area so it could be instrumented with water quality sensors. They want to keep a close eye on salt accumulation in the area. "Patrick Lopez (EBID Technology Director) is expanding our program in the Rincon and the Mesilla Valleys," says Fuchs, "taking measurements of specific conductance to estimate TDS (total dissolved solids) over all of our monitoring sites. That's going to be excellent data. We'll have the most comprehensive data set on TDS in the Lower Rio Grande."

The Hatch/Rincon Valley is quick to lose groundwater from storage in response to pumping stress, acknowledges Fuchs, "But it's quick to gain as well. The losses are felt greater and more immediately because there simply isn't much of a groundwater buffer to work with. The annual rate of loss remains greater than the rate of gain, but I want to stress that things are gaining up there." Farmer and EBID board member Jerry Franzoy observes that the relative health of the aquifer in the Hatch Valley has improved and says that monitoring of groundwater levels throughout the District has been valuable to the farmers. Local precipitation during the winter also helped some farmers hold off on pumping groundwater to irrigate their spring onions he said.


Fuchs describes the aquifer in the Mesilla Valley as "deep and robust" and says EBID has it instrumented with monitoring sites and sensors pretty well, particularly in the shallow alluvium. Cultivation numbers in 2016 showed about 52,000 acres in the Mesilla that were irrigated through EBID, down about 11,000 acres from the average. Fuchs says the reduction in irrigated acreage reflects apparent fallowing of row crops, and seasonal stacking or temporary transfers of EBID surface water from fallowed land to other acreage in cultivation, such as permanent pecan orchards. This helps replace some amount of groundwater pumping that would otherwise occur, particularly in pecan production.

The take home message from the groundwater data in the District's Central area is that the cumulative average net change in year-end shallow groundwater elevations now sits at -5.9 feet, an improvement over the cumulative average seven foot decline observed just a couple of years ago. Of course, water table declines during the irrigation season in any given year while wells are actually running is much greater. Cumulative net loss from shallow storage from 2010 through 2016 in the Mesilla is calculated to be about 137,000 acre-feet. Just a couple of years ago, the cumulative loss was well over 160,000 acre-feet. "Things are improving," Fuchs says, "We're gaining across the board in the Mesilla as well." Gains began to be seen in 2015 with 2016 showing substantial gains. "I'm encouraged, and I think this is a testament to the proactivity and organization of farming interests in the area where we've otherwise seen some of the greatest losses in recent years," he says, "The farming community in the Mesilla Valley, like the Rincon Valley, is mindful of where their problems are and are going to considerable effort and expense to try and address them. I'm encouraged by that and proud of our farmer's commitment to agronomic adaption to ongoing drought."

The aquifer in the Mesilla is also quick to lose, but not quite as quick to gain as the Rincon, Fuchs notes, "But you have a significant groundwater buffer to work with. I want to draw attention to the fact that it is presently gaining. That is very encouraging."

Fuchs asserts. "The Operating Agreement is working; downstream EPCWID No.1 is being kept whole. EBID farmers have clearly suffered the hardships of drought, but the more recent gains in the aquifer are measurable and unmistakable. We're successfully enduring what I would characterize as the worst drought in the history of the Rio Grande Project." However, noting the diminished capacity of Elephant Butte Reservoir, he warns that drought conditions in the region are far from over. It could be some time before full or even close to full surface water allotments can be expected. "We're not out of the woods yet."

Lobbying for increased Remote Telemetry Unit (RTU) metering of groundwater pumping, Fuchs says, "We need to explore the potential for more growers to come forward and participate in EBID's telemetry program." The program aids farmers and can also provide critical information and benefit to the Office of the State Engineer. Data collected by Lopez, developer of the District's RTU system, is accurate, reliable and, stresses Fuchs, it is real time. Monitoring units have been upgraded, says Lopez, to better suit harsh environmental conditions. "Once the installation occurs," Fuchs says, "EBID takes over the maintenance and management of the telemetry units." He hopes to see some economic incentives made available to help farmers increase their participation in EBID's RTU metering program.

EBID Manager Gary Esslinger expressed interest in working with the State Engineer and the legislature to expand this RTU metering program as it would benefit everyone. He noted that in the past the state had programs in place to provide low interest rate loans to farmers to implement something like this, but those have fallen by the wayside. He says, "If every one of these [wells] had real time data on it, it would be so easy to keep track of groundwater pumping for accounting and other purposes."

In summary, although the magnitude of change differs between the Rincon and the Mesilla Valleys because they are different systems with different demands, the trend of increases in shallow aquifer storage over the last couple of years in response to gradual increases in the EBID surface water allotment is basically the same, Fuchs says. It may be a while before we're seeing full allotment years, he acknowledges, but if the District were to receive four consecutive years of full surface water allotments beginning this year, although unlikely, he estimates that full recovery of the shallow aquifer to end of 2009 conditions might be expected. The annual surface water allotment and the farming community's adaptation to the harsh realities of drought both factor into careful stewardship of limited water resources.

National Ag Day: Thank a Farmer

by Karen Ray
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National Ag Day is March 21st, so thank a farmer for food to eat and clothes to wear. And thank the hard working team at Elephant Butte Irrigation District for helping to ensure folks get the irrigation water necessary to grow those crops. In fact, Elephant Butte Irrigation District manager Gary Esslinger has a bumper sticker that reads "No Farm, No Food."

According to this year's theme is "Agriculture: Food for Life" and 2017 marks the 44th anniversary. Events are planned in communities across the country to honor the men and women who make agricultural production possible and to tell the story of American agriculture.

National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America, nonprofit organization, dedicated to increasing the public's awareness of agriculture's role in modern society. The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
  • Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

Sierra County will celebrate Ag day with a "Down on the Farm" event this Friday, March 17 starting at 9:00 a.m. at Desert Springs Produce, Gillis Farms, Arrey, NM. The event is dedicated to the children of the community. Their goal is to demonstrate the various aspects of the agriculture industry, delighting the kids and "showing them where their food, clothing and shelter comes from. We want to plant a seed of encouragement, water it with knowledge, and shed light on the many diverse areas of agriculture. We realize the importance of teaching the younger generation." EBID will be featuring their custom irrigation display trailer at the event.

Chuy Morales, an engineer technician with EBID likes to ask school kids, "Who benefits from agriculture? Where do you think (food) comes from?" And the question with a universal answer, "Have you guys ever eaten?" He then leads them through the process of thinking about where all the ingredients for their favorite foods comes from; the grapes and apples in their lunch, the corn and alfalfa to raise beef or allow dairy cows to produce the cheese on their tacos, the chile that goes in their mama's best salsa recipe. He leaves them with, "If you guys have ever eaten anything, thank a farmer. Thank someone that's been out there in the fields taking care of and working there on the farm."

Dr. Phil King, engineering and hydrology consultant for EBID, is cautiously optimistic about the water supply forecast for the 2017 irrigation season. He says river flows are running at average levels, delivering about 1700 acre feet per day into the system. However, current snowpack is about 146% SWE and Wolf Creek Summit still has another two months to go before it hits its typical peak snow level. King informed the board that there are 258,000 acre feet of releasable water available in storage to allocate for 2017 at this point. This translates to an estimated 7.5 inch allotment. The district's board of directors will meet on 3/24 to set the water allotment for this year.

EBID irrigated 73,303 acres with surface water across the district in 2016. Farmers raised cotton, forage, pecans, chile and a variety of vegetables, grains and fruit, providing critical resources and positive impact on southern New Mexico's economy and beyond as those Ag products were shipped around the world.

The Road Less Traveled: EBID and the Roads Act

EBID Staff Report
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Municipalities and counties are continually improving and often widening roads. At times this means that they want to use irrigation district canal banks for public roads. This would subject irrigation districts to liability that they are currently not subject to under Section 41-4-11 of the Tort Claims Act. Elephant Butte Irrigation District operates, maintains, and owns the irrigation distribution system of the Rio Grande Project, including the canals, laterals, drains, wasteways, canal/drain banks, and structures. These facilities are used only by the District to conduct their business and are not open for public use without a special use permit or other written agreement. However, in some areas, district property provides a potentially decent location for public road for access to private property.

EBID has a Right of Use Policy and an agreement with the City of Las Cruces and Dona Ana County, and NMDOT which addresses, lists and permits those roads that cross EBID facilities. However, several DAC roads paralleling EBID facilities, on EBID property or Right of Ways, have been improved without EBID's permission across the county. Several other roads exist without EBID's permission and without adequate improvements. All roads paralleling EBID facilities create an unresolved liability issue for both DAC and EBID.

The proposed amendment, called the Roads Act (HB 164 and SB 178), would allow irrigation districts to permit the use of their canal bank property for use as public roads built and maintained by other public entities, without being subjected to additional liability.

"It was the Kit Carson Road near Rincon that brought this issue to a head," explains Lee Peters, legal counsel for EBID, "The County built a narrow road in between an EBID drain and EBID canal that carries large trucks, school buses, etc." This road is an example of an unpermitted road that's improvements have hit a standstill due to the need for a permit from EBID that properly addresses liability. Peters said, "This legislation would solve both this problem and others like it. EBID could issue the permit to expand the road, provided the County enters into an agreement with them that meets the legal requirements. There are more than 80 existing County roads on EBID property that need to come into compliance with EBID permitting processes, once this law goes into effect. There are other roads that the County, as well as the State and the City of Las Cruces, want to put in that would then be allowable with this amendment.

In 2007 the Legislature passed into law language allowing for irrigation district canal banks to be used for recreational trails without incurring liability. This "Trails Act" was a huge success because it has allowed for trails to be built around the city and created the opportunity for many future recreational trail opportunities. Similar language in the current proposed amendment would serve the same purpose and allow use of district land as roads.

Similar versions of this bill came very close to fruition in 2014 and 2015. The Attorney General, along with other state officials, revised that language in 2014, resulting in a House Agriculture Committee Substitute for HB 165 and Senate Conservation Committee Substitute for SB100. Peters explained, "The bills received 'do pass' recommendations from several committees and the House bill passed the House of Representatives, but both bills died on adjournment."

Further work in 2015 saw the bills through various committees but dying in the Senate Judiciary. 2016 was strictly a financial session, so no progress was made on this issue. To date, according to EBID manager Gary Esslinger, "Four bills matching the current HB164 have gone through seven committees and twice through the House unanimously." Previous revisions were made to the bill and it now meets the requirements of the Attorney General. Irrigation and conservancy districts have extensive and unique property holdings that other entities do not possess. The Legislature has the right to carve out exceptions to waivers of immunity to fit the circumstances of these special governmental units.

Currently, during the 2017 Legislative Session, the bill has successfully gone through two House committees and one Senate committee. Esslinger has traveled to Santa Fe several times this session and attended the third reading on the House Floor, showing that this bill is clearly important to EBID. As of Monday, 2/27 SB 178 received a do pass without objection from the Senate Judiciary as amended. Peters says, SB 178 now goes to the Senate floor and HB 164 is awaiting committee hearings in the Senate. He explained that if either bill makes it through both the House and the Senate, it will then go to the Governor for her approval and to become law.

EBID seeks to cooperatively resolve the problematic situations caused by these unpermitted roads and remedy those dangerous areas that do not allow adequate space for the district to perform maintenance. Passage of the Roads Act will help begin this process.

Community Agencies Conduct Dam Breach/Flooding Table Top Exercise

by Karen Ray for EBID
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Many of us drive by dams such as Tortugas #1 east of NMSU without giving them a second thought. It is reassuring to know that area agencies meet regularly to proactively address public safety, practicing how best to protect the people and property within their jurisdiction in the event of an emergency.

The Dona Ana County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in partnership with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) recently held a "table top" exercise to prepare for the unlikely event of a dam breach or overtop. The exercise centered around the Tortugas #1 Dam, which EBID is responsible for operating and maintaining.

In addition to its responsibilities to deliver irrigation water, EBID also sponsors five dams: Picacho North, Picacho South, Lucero, Dona Ana North, and Tortugas #1, and co-sponsors 21 more, along with the Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Dona Ana County Flood Commission.

Community agencies identified as having a critical role in the event of a dam emergency were invited. Agencies including the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer Dam Safety Bureau, New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Dona Ana County Office of Emergency Management, Dona Ana County Flood Commission, City of Las Cruces, New Mexico State University, and many others participated in the exercising and review of the Emergency Action Plan for Tortugas 1 Dam.

The large group met at the new Mesilla Valley Regional Dispatch Authority (MVRDA) facility in Las Cruces. Training Officer Lt. Ron Schulmeister with the Las Cruces City Fire Department walked workshop participants through several scenarios based on various potential breach threats to the dam located near the New Mexico State University Golf Course and the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

One of the scenarios read: "At 9 a.m. Wednesday, August 23, 2017, an EBID employee checking on the status of the dam observes water flowing over the auxiliary spillway. A sizable quantity of water is flowing downstream of the dam. The downstream arroyo is rapidly eroding."

Different entities weighed in on what actions the Emergency Action Plan called for and what procedures they would expect to follow in the given scenarios, including who they would contact and when. They discussed how the situation would be monitored to determine if further action needed to be taken. Public safety was the primary focus as they utilized a series of flood inundation maps that are part of the Emergency Action Plan prepared by EBID.

As the groups were provided new scenarios, they discussed among themselves, arriving at a plan of action. The operation of the dam remains the responsibility of EBID but evacuation of the public is the responsibility of other entities and emergency responders who are notified by EBID that a situation is a non-failure emergency, a potential failure emergency, or an imminent failure emergency. Then Schulmeister led them through the process of sharing their input with the other entities, everyone working together to clarify the process, practicing in the event of the real thing. The Emergency Action Plan laid out directions for most steps of the response to the scenario but "What if?" questions were raised also and solutions put forth to possible unexpected situations like road washouts or equipment failures.

In the event of a flooding concern some agencies would provide evaluation and notification, others would activate appropriate evacuations, each taking flexible action as needed to deal with that particular situation's threat level. EBID Manager Gary Esslinger discussed the communication process the district would follow, starting with consulting with District Engineer Zack Libbin to evaluate the situation. The steps followed repeated a process of emergency evaluation, communication, and expected actions.

The group noted that an Emergency Operation Center could be activated to begin coordinating response and related coordinated action. John Gwynne, Engineer Supervisor at Dona Ana County Flood Commission, brought up that access to the area around a dam structure is always a concern and must be addressed. Libbin commented that evacuation maps have been prepared for the different scenarios and would be appropriately utilized. MRVDA said that their agency is able to put out 38,000 phone calls in 12 minutes to notify people if necessary.

The group repeated the process again with a further developing situation, more advanced flooding threats with water close to top of the dam, the spillway eroding, and seepage through the dam developing. Agencies practiced what they would do in the event of this unlikely but critical emergency, not only following their developed action plans but brainstorming how to make the process even more efficient and effective.

As noted in a recent EBID article regarding the South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (SCNMSMC) and dam safety, "It is critical that sponsors put forth the money and effort necessary to maintain the dam structures but additional funding is needed. After fifty plus years of protecting primarily farmland, today dams also protect communities, greatly complicating the safety factor." It is in light of this concern for public safety the OEM and EBID conducted the training exercise. The scout motto of "Be Prepared" is as relevant today as it ever was.

Winter Care and Feeding of the EBID Irrigation System

by Karen Ray for EBID
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The 2016 irrigation season is done, it's true, but for Leo Barrett, EBID Maintenance Director and Chris Holguin, central maintenance and fabrication shop foreman, the winter months bring an intense time of system maintenance and improvements. "This is the time of year that we do all of our major construction," Barrett says, "Concrete structures, pipelines, new turnout installations, turn out repairs and things that cannot be done while water is inside the canals. The Maintenance Department also does all the general maintenance of the canals and the yards."

Some winter projects the district has completed include installation of stormwater evacuation waste ways throughout the central and south valley areas of the district to facilitate stormwater capture. Barrett, "Storm water can be placed into the drains or areas that we have created to hold it so it can filter back into the ground table and replenish some of these cones of depression caused by pumping."

Like many other EBID employees, Barrett began his career back in '88 with the operations department, serving as a ditch rider and maintenance foreman prior to becoming the Maintenance Project Director in 2007. Holguin also began as a ditch rider in '95, working his way up within that position, then serving in the fab shop during the winter for another 10 years before taking on his current role. This background gives both men a unique understanding of the scope of work required out in the field.

Plans for the newly completed fabrication shop at the district's Las Cruces headquarters have been in the works for quite a while. EBID produced an excellent array of specialized fabrications with their original small shop over the years but lack of space proved challenging as they produced such things as large scale radial irrigation gates. Holguin says, "We have the labor force and the skill to produce these items, we just needed space." They used to have to move the radial gates outside, rotate them, then bring them back in to continue working on them. The process would have to be repeated every time they needed to work at a new angle. "With this new facility we're going to be able to rotate everything inside with the cranes," he says. Barrett says, "Safety is a key reason for this new shop, room and safety to have the proper lifting devices and mechanisms."

The men provide a bit of a physics lesson. Barrett says, "The radial gate design helps the water carry the silt downstream and keeps the canal system clean much better than a flat gate structure." Holguin explains that with a flat gate, "excess water tends to go over (the top) and the silt will stay. With a radial gate, the opening is on the bottom, so all the water has to travel through there. That radius gives it a pulling action, so it's pulling the silt with it. It doesn't eliminate it but it reduces the amount of maintenance as far as the silt build up."

Barrett and maintenance foreman Casey McGuire in the north valley manage a variety of projects throughout the district during the winter to enable increased efficiency during the active irrigation season. The district works to maximize every benefit from the water resources under their management to help farmers grow crops, maintain livestock and provide economic resources to the entire region. It's a coordinated team effort says Barrett, "We have our operations foreman and two water masters who are involved in the major construction and then they each have their teams of ditch riders who are also carpenters and concrete technicians." EBID's focused effort at cross training their employees allows them to accomplish a tremendous amount within the short maintenance season window.

"The bottom line for the maintenance department," says Barrett, "is to build and maintain structures that our operations department, our ditch riders, need to effectively and physically deliver their water, based off of designs by our own in-house engineering department." Zach Libbin, District Engineer and Chuy Morales, engineering draftsman, work closely to do the field and design work needed for the maintenance projects.

In addition to fabrication and construction work during the off season, EBID also takes advantage of the dry canals to do maintenance and reshaping of the system's channels, including drain cleaning. Right before our recent round of winter rain David Alba, a heavy equipment operator with EBID, used an excavator to clean years of saplings and overgrowth out of the Dona Ana Drain. He's been with the district about ten years and handled the job like a master craftsman. The clean drain will facilitate aquifer recharge as well as help surrounding agricultural land to drain as designed.

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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