EBID and OSE Work with Farmers on Water IssuesEBID Report
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In opening remarks at a joint open house held September 7 in Las Cruces by the Office of the State Engineer and Elephant Butte Irrigation District, State Engineer Tom Blaine commented, "This was the first time in over 18 years that the entire state has been out of the drought condition."
Dr. Phil King, chief hydrologist and civil engineering consultant for EBID explained the water situation that led to some over diversion of irrigation water this year. Reservoir storage started off quite low at the beginning of the year. He noted that snowpack over the last several years has been producing less runoff and EBID cautiously watched that situation as they began discussing the 2017 water allocation. This year's late snowfall and late runoff, while beneficial, also caused problems Blaine pointed out. One of these was anticipation.
"Farmers were anticipating that we were going to have a low water yield again this year and a lot of farmers used their groundwater rights early in the year in anticipation of a poor runoff year. As time moved on and into June we started seeing runoff showing up in the reservoir that wasn't anticipated," he said. This is difficult to plan around, he acknowledged, "EBID is kind of walking that tight rope, looking at how do we allocate the water. We don't want to give too much too early because it may never show up. But we want to make sure that we can have water that's available to our farmers and so it's a real balance."
"We wound up at 16 inches in May and went to 24 inches at the June board meeting," King said, "a lot of farmers had pumped two maybe two and a half feet before we came on down here, especially in the Mesilla Valley where we didn't start until late May. So they had to start up their season, irrigate all the way up until late May before they had any surface water in the system." That two foot allotment then "put people right at the brink or even over the brink of that 4.5 acre foot per acre cap that most farmers have, a few of them have proved up to 5.5, with a whole bunch of season left in the year."
Blaine explained, "Diversion of groundwater is simply a function of how much surface water is available. You can use that groundwater to augment or supplement the surface source." The total amount of water that can be used is combined surface and groundwater. If a farmer receives a surface water allotment of 2 feet he can only pump another 2.5 acre feet to stay within his allotted water rights.
The OSE and EBID, Blaine stressed, "are locked arms on this, ready to solve this problem that was created because we had such a great year. The problem that we need to solve is some over diversion. I think the most important thing I want you to take from this meeting is we need to get our meter readings in. Meter readings are extremely important because that's how we administer the water. Even if you have over diverted or think you've over-diverted you're not in trouble. We're down here to work out solutions and figure out how we can navigate through this issue that we're having this year."
Both offices emphasized that in an over diversion situation there is greater flexibility in finding ways to resolve it early in the process. Blaine said, "I want to encourage everybody to communicate with our office because communication is really the key. The main purpose of being down here today is to solve the technical problems. We don't have a legal problem because if we can solve this as a technical problem then everybody is going into the next irrigation season optimistic and whole." He said every season has been different since the start of the District, "It takes a balance and sometimes there's extremes and this is kind of one of those years of extremes."
EBID Board of Directors President Robert Faubion explained, "We all want to manage the aquifer and its resource better, it's about finding solutions to [over diversions] and having a soft landing for everybody down here." He strongly encouraged farmers to use all of their surface water as it is counted in their annual allotment. "If you suspect that you're going to over divert or know that you've over diverted, don't be in a panic, set an appointment up with the local office, go in, maybe it's a question of you were pumping for a neighbor and it wasn't included in your OWMAN plan. The OSE has been very proactive in helping facilitate that kind of "Ill pump less so you can pump more" kind of transaction. Ryan (Serrano, OSE Water Master for the Lower Rio Grande) and his staff are great at working some of these issues out." An OWMAN plan provides a degree of flexibility for farmers in managing their water rights across different parcels of land.
Faubion reminded the audience that there is also a market for surface water and said the District is working on ideas to facilitate this process. If a farmer needs to access that it won't count against their allotment. "The Office of the State Engineer and all of his staff are working very closely with EBID to come up with a sensible, logical, non-punitive solution to this year's over diversions. And we're working together to craft solutions for different scenarios down the road."
He said the bottom line is that farmers need to use their surface water allotment. "It's actually worse for the system if they don't use it. You've got to get that surface water on the ground, it recharges the aquifer. It also causes the farmers to pump less groundwater so it's kind of a double benefit to the aquifer, increasing recharge and decreasing withdrawal from the aquifer." Farmers who use all their surface water benefit the health of the system and show good stewardship he said.
The OSE and EBID both discussed the lack of reporting of groundwater use. The reporting rate sat at only 37% until recently but has risen to 50% in the last few weeks. This creates great difficulty in characterizing the problem and developing solutions. King said, "If we're to come up with good solutions we need good data. We can't fly blind here so take home message number two is report, report, report. You're required to; it is good management to measure what you're doing. If you can't measure your water you're not managing it. Measure your water, report it to Ryan even if it does show that you go over; we'll figure it out."
Serrano's office actively works with farmers to gain voluntary compliance on reporting their water use. "If we don't have the information we can't come up with solutions," he said, "the only way we can gain that knowledge is by getting the information, reporting your meter readings, letting us know where your water is going, which lands you're irrigating. If we can figure all those things out then there's a good chance we can get you back into compliance and maintain where you're at, make sure you don't go over." He encouraged those with questions to come in and talk to them, "We're here to help and we want to help so please come in and report your readings. Use all of your surface water, that's a key component."
Rep. Bill Gomez asked about alternatives for farmers who over allocate their water. Faubion responded, "We're still working through some of those solutions. I think we'll have a better picture of what the options are when we have all of the meter readings in. if somebody comes in right now we can work with them to look at leasing some surface rights, work with them on an OWMAN." Serrano agreed and said over diversion problems can often be resolved by understanding a farmer's operation better. However, King reminded listeners of budgeting principle 101, "If we do have people who are just flat over using water then they need to live within their means."
Gary Esslinger, EBID Manager and Treasurer, reminded attendees, "EBID offers a well meter RT unit; once we put that into your well system, it's a onetime expense and then your meter reading goes automatically to the state engineer every quarter, we think this is beneficial to the farmer, helps him manage his water." The District is working with the state engineer on improving opportunities for farmers to acquire these well meter RT units.
King commented on the good working relationship EBID has with OSE, "We agree on a lot of principles, number one, use all your surface water, number 2, report your data, and number 3, we want to come up with solutions to this; they're not punishment for something that really is in many ways beyond the farmers' control." Farmers are strongly encouraged to talk to their neighbors and let them know that both OSE and EBID want to work together to develop reasonable solutions to over diversion problems during this "odd" year and out into the future.
"EBID and the Office of the State Engineer are working together to get this solved," Blaine emphasized.
Flood Awareness and Planning in the High DesertEBID Report
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Stormwater entering from the watersheds has a great impact on the entire region here in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. Harnessing this additional supply of water can minimize flooding, recharge the aquifers and provide other irrigation and economic benefits. However, stormwater management must begin at the top of the watersheds to reduce the volume, settle out sedimentation and control the velocity of the water before it reaches populated areas along the river. EBID Manager Gary Esslinger says it is critical "to build sound science infrastructure to capture and salvage this precious resource before it becomes a public safety and welfare nightmare for the unsuspecting residents in the valley floor."
Historically, "The Rio Grande was essentially a stormwater stream, subject to great and sudden floods or becoming a dry stream bed because of severe drought," Esslinger notes, "The region's rainfall occurs principally in the form of intense "Cloud Bursts" during the monsoon season, which fill the dry ephemeral streams/arroyos with turbulent, sediment loaded stormwater for short durations. When those storms occur simultaneously in many parts of the region they cause destructive floods in other parts of the valley, as evident of the Hatch flooding in 2006."
The "feast or famine" nature of the river flow changed upon the completion of Elephant Butte and Caballo Dams 100 miles upstream in 1916 and 1933 respectively, enabling the capture and storage of snow melt run off from the southern Rockies. However, even today irrigated agricultural land, communities and cities along the river course are often inundated with flood debris and submerged roads and highways add enormous costs to the property damage.
Available funding has been inadequate and sporadic to take on the noble effort of maintaining these dams at a standard to protect the public safety and welfare. The City of Las Cruces, Dona Ana County, other public entities and farmers have tried to address this concern within their limits.
Hundreds of flood dams up and down the East and West mesas, public and private, exist today. EBID sponsors 27 of these flood structures in the Rincon and Mesilla Valleys because the stormwater outflow from these dams flows directly into our canals and laterals rather than directly to the river. Flooding can result further downstream from where the initial mishap occurred due to the fact that our canal system now carries flood water downstream to areas which otherwise may not have been susceptible to flooding. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the watersheds that remain are uncontrolled arroyos and gullies that directly impact the escarpments and valley floor. As Houston experienced, when additional rainfall falls on already saturated ground and full waterways, flooding is inevitable. Future flood flows in our own narrow valley are a very real possibility in the event of a major storm and have the potential to impact us catastrophically.
Esslinger says, "I have been accused of being a fear monger but this valley is in the cross hairs of a horrific flood event. It is time for serious objective planning that begins to focus and recognize the benefit of addressing water matters at the base of the mountains and upper watersheds rather than at the valley entrance. We must look at the entire watersheds, alluviums and an enormous area of connecting arroyos and gullies as part of the system to be managed and protected." Regional planning must not ignore the potential loss of property and economic devastation from flooding. If a 100 year storm event hits our local region, will we be prepared? It is not "if" it will happen, but "when." Esslinger cautions, "We can no longer afford to live in the land of mañana."
EBID End of Irrigation Season ReportKaren Ray for EBID
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Elephant Butte Irrigation District is reaching the end of another successful irrigation season said James Narvaez, the District's Irrigation System Director. He confirmed that the last day for farmers to order water will be September 22 at 4:30 pm. Final water deliveries must be made by September 30 as the system will be out of water by that date. He cautioned, "If at all possible, do not wait till the 22nd to order your water. When we hit the 30th we're done. We expect the demand to be very high for the end of season water orders." Orders can be placed online at www.ebid-nm.org through the Farmer Services portal or by calling the Water Records Office at 575-524-8003.
Narvaez said the District hit its targeted efficiency rates, which has allowed them to continue the season till the end of September. "Late rains also impacted the demand," he noted, "This may have allowed some farmers to in effect receive an extra irrigation from stormwater without having to order water." This year the canals reached capacity during the month of June as the District saw its highest demand. Historically, the highest demand month has been July because of the heat but this year July's late rains and sporadic storms through August kept the demand lower. "With the later rainfalls we never really got up to capacity again because of the lowered demand," he said.
Examining his records he said, "September 30th finish date will make the latest we've had in about 15 years. Thanks of course to the efforts of the farmers who are watering more efficiently and communication and coordination with ditch riders that helped improve the overall delivery."
The final flat rate irrigation took place over Labor Day weekend, September 2 and 3rd. That brought the District to a total of four flat rate irrigations for the season, the most in several years. Narvaez says, "Flat rate irrigations seemed to improve this year thanks to the efforts of the flat raters who worked together to keep their ditches clean and accomplish their irrigations efficiently." Going into next season he said, "We'd encourage flat raters to continue to work towards developing community ditch associations in order for EBID to better serve their needs. They can contact Orlando Tirre at the Operations Office at 575-526-6671, ext. 435 for more information about this simple process."
Narvaez commented, "Although we had 24 inches of water, it was still a late allocation. This puts us in a better position for the beginning of the 2018 irrigation season. If forecasts hold and demand dictates we could start up sooner next year."
Projected estimated totals for the season are as follows:
Immediately after the close of the irrigation season, EBID's maintenance season begins. District staff and employees shift gears and begin to use the dry months to improve District facilities and delivery efficiencies, making the entire system work better and smarter every year.
Strong, Safe, Secure: EBID's Role in Dam Maintenance and SecurityKaren Ray for EBID
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Recent coverage of Hurricane Harvey has made us all vividly aware of the tremendous, often unexpected force of nature. Just as citizens in flood prone areas have learned to prepare, so community officials and residents of our high desert region realize the importance of preparing for our own potential flood events.
Private, city, county and state entities across the region regularly meet to plan and practice what they will do in the event of an emergency to reduce hazards to people and property. They discuss and practice a variety of action plans should a 100 or a 500 year storm event occur, as well as dam breaches or a simple overabundance of water in the wrong place at the wrong time. From Hatch and Rincon through the Mesilla Valley, all the way down the Elephant Butte Irrigation District to El Paso, the area is no stranger to flooding.
EBID's stormwater capture program is only one part of the solution. The District is also heavily involved in collaborative work with other organizations to monitor the condition and safety of area dams constructed 50 to 60 years ago to protect agricultural land. Today, communities have grown up below these structures, what experts call "hazard creep," creating increased hazard to both residents and the entities charged with operating and maintaining the structures. People live with a false sense of security and aren't as aware as they should be of the inherent risk as those dams continue to age. Maintenance is critical and flood control entities and dam sponsors must expend money and resources to ensure it gets done.
The dams require annual inspections and this is conducted jointly by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the dam sponsors, such as EBID. The group recommends appropriate maintenance measures. This includes removing silt buildup behind the dams to allow for full collection capacity as well as controlling woody vegetation growth on the dam. Some types of plants are helpful, like grasses whose root systems help hold the soil in place. Large shrubs and trees, however, have deep root systems that can track water and damage the integrity of the dam. These need to be controlled and removed. Other ongoing concerns are pocket gophers, ground squirrels, and other burrowing animals that can damage the dam in the process of digging out their next apartment. They have even been known to cause irrigation canal wall failures because of extensive burrowing. They may look cute but they are immensely destructive, do not feed them!
EBID's Maintenance Director Leo Barrett is leading a shift back to a renewed emphasis on the critical maintenance of these flood control dams across the District. His equipment operators work not only on brush removal each year but also large scale silt removal. "If you've got a dam that's three fourths full of silt," he says, "you're not going to catch and release as much water as you would if you get it empty." The twin goals of public safety and stormwater capture are best served when a dam is able to capture as much storm water as possible then release it in a controlled manner.
Patrick Lopez, EBID's Hydrology and IT Director, oversees the District's Remote Telemetry Unit (RTU) System, which monitors and provides all real-time water data. He has worked with Zack Libbin, EBID's District Engineer (PE), to develop remote telemetry sites that will monitor rising dam water and measure outflows from the dam outlet and emergency spillway. Site design and planning was a collaborative effort involving multiple personnel from both the Hydrology and Engineering departments, with all protective pedestal casings built by the District's Fabrication Department. The District is currently in the process of installing RTU monitoring on 28 flood control dams. Each flood control dam will have extensive alarm capabilities to alert EBID personnel of accumulating storm run-off and provide potential early flood warning for public safety. The dams are designed to drain and release water slowly over a period of days. EBID's dams are required to drain within 96 hours.
EBID sponsors or co-sponsors 27 dams along the east and west mesas of the Rincon and Mesilla Valleys and is the labor force behind most of the dam maintenance for other entities like the Dona Ana County Flood Commission, who are also responsible for numerous dams. The Flood Commission requests EBID perform maintenance pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and then pays EBID's equipment and labor costs to implement it.
"High Hazard" dams, classified as such based on their size and potential risk of breach, have strict regulations administered by the Office of the State Engineer Dam Safety Bureau. All of these High Hazard dams require an emergency action plan (EAP), which is lacking for most rural dams in New Mexico. EBID and its cosponsors have EAPs in place for Tortugas Site 1, Rodey Arroyo, North Salem Arroyo, Green Canyon, and Berrenda Dams. EBID is pursuing the remainder of these critical planning documents and is striving to have them all in place. District Engineer Zach Libbin and GIS Analyst Dennis McCarville are developing the required hydrology and hydraulic analysis which lead to flood inundation maps. In coordination with the Office of Emergency Management, dam breach inundation maps in turn lead to evacuation maps. This is key information should a storm occur which overtops the dam, or any other emergency related to the dam develop.
EBID takes storms and dam safety seriously, whether it's capturing storm water or working with others toward improving dam safety.
State Engineer and Elephant Butte Irrigation District Coordinate to Offer Help to Farmers Facing Irrigation IssuesSanta Fe, New Mexico
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For more information, contact:
The irrigation season is well underway in the Hatch, Rincon and Mesilla valleys in south central New Mexico, but some farmers in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) have already exceeded their allowable groundwater limits and others could soon be facing the same problem.
Farmers in the EBID with combined surface water and groundwater rights are allowed 4.5 acre-feet per acre total water from both sources, and in some cases can divert up to a total of 5.5 acre-feet per acre. The drought of the past six years was brutal, resulting in an average surface water allotment of only eight inches for EBID farmers (a full supply is 36 inches).
Because of the persistent drought that ended the past year, the 2017 season started out with very little water in storage at Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs. The shortage of water in storage affected the initial surface water allotment to EBID farmers and delayed the start of the surface water irrigation season.
An above-average snowpack produced a welcome break in the dismal spring runoffs of previous years. As a result, the EBID was able to adjust the surface water allotment up to two acre-feet per acre in June. Because of the late arrival of a decent supply of water into Elephant Butte Reservoir, farmers began irrigation in late February with groundwater. Surface water deliveries did not begin in the EBID's Mesilla Valley until late May. By that time, several farmers had been compelled to irrigate with groundwater such that the June allotment of two acre-feet per acre put them over their seasonal limit.
The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) and the EBID recognized this problem based on the surface water allotment and groundwater reporting data provided by some farmers, and are working collaboratively to develop solutions. The OSE and the EBID will co-host an open house where affected farmers and water resource experts from the two organizations will have the opportunity to discuss this unique water year and options for those water users facing over-diversion situations.
"We've worked together with farmers for decades to find creative solutions for water issues," said State Engineer Tom Blaine. "We look forward to continuing our working relationship with farmers and the EBID to solve this current problem. We are thankful to have the benefits of the increased runoff, even with the problems it may bring."
Robert Faubion, President of EBID's Board of Directors, reinforced this approach. "This water year has been a welcome break from the stiff drought of the past several years, but the late timing of the available surface water will put some farmers in a tough place," he said. "The State Engineer and the EBID don't want farmers punished for that. This late water supply is a blessing and we will treat it as such. My two bits of advice to farmers who are affected are to use all your surface water, it is the best thing for the health of our aquifer system. I also recommend they report their pumping to the OSE. We are trying to strategize with a very limited reporting rate. It is hard for us to address what we can't see."
The OSE and the EBID's open house will be held on Thursday, September 7th from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Gerald Thomas Hall on the NMSU Campus, Room 194 (see map below). Parking will be available.
Spotlight on StormwaterKaren Ray for EBID
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High humidity, weeds galore, downed trees and flooding around our high desert region remind us that once again the annual monsoon season is here. Elephant Butte Irrigation District, along with many other entities, government and private, is hard at work dealing with all the extra water. One of the ways they're doing this is through their Stormwater Capture Program.
Surging stormwater inflows can be harnessed and put to work similar to the concept of harvesting solar energy. In this case, the stormwater can be used for irrigating farmers' crops, reducing the need to release as much water from the reservoir and helping to recharge a depleted aquifer during the ongoing drought.
EBID Manager Gary Esslinger explains, "The problem with the monsoon season is you never know where it's going to hit so there could be an event in Hatch where everything is dry down here and it's just running full bore up in the Hatch area. We try to accommodate stormwater that's coming down from Hatch and then try to divert it into the Leasburg or Mesilla Dams." The district has worked to become more sophisticated with monitoring and metering the stormwater using state of the art instrumentation and developing management and reuse strategies.
The District must deal with what's in the river first and then determine if there is room to even put it in the canal system. Esslinger says, "The canal system is usually at capacity for irrigation purposes during July in the monsoon season; especially in a year like this year when we have a two foot allotment. When we only have an eight inch allotment it's easier to receive that water into our system." To avoid flushing "good Caballo water" into the drains the district at times must evacuate that water from the system, sending it into the river and picking it up again in Leasburg and Mesilla, while bringing in stormwater at Hatch.
"Hatch is unique too because there's eight or nine flood control dams there where the outflow channel goes directly into our lateral system, not directly into the river directly," he explains, "The river is so far away from the retention dams that our network of canals and laterals is utilized to get the water to the river." Esslinger says, "I've experienced years where we've watered maybe a month in Hatch with water coming off of these flood control dams and not had to depend on releasing from Caballo or Percha to deliver this water." He recalls that back in 2006, the year of the Hatch flood, Broad Canyon Dam drained for almost two months into the river, where it was redirected at Leasburg Dam.
Stormwater capture is a "Cat and mouse game," Esslinger notes, "You have to almost look at every event, what benefits can you derive from it?" Patrick Lopez, EBID's Hydrology Director, works with a team of District engineers and staff to increase monitoring across the district. They have placed RTU (Remote Telemetry Unit) sensors on arroyos, drains and dams in addition to the hundreds of miles of the conveyance system, working to develop a thorough information "net" to monitor potential stormwater. Their goal is to increase the numbers of sensors out in the watersheds to help prepare and react to incoming storm flow. Esslinger says they're also in the process of increasing infrastructure to put rain gauges and flood control gates in the drains to help direct this sporadic stormwater resource.
In a recent letter to EBID employees, Esslinger said, "For the farmers to survive and for the food to continue to be produced here in Dona Ana County, a stable water supply is a must. It is with the innovative spirit of all of us working together that I believe we can continue to sustain our agricultural industry and our job feeding our Nation." The District is beginning to see that directing captured stormwater into targeted areas of the depleted groundwater aquifer is one way to help meet that goal.
Weed Control 101Karen Ray for EBID
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Elephant Butte Irrigation District's ongoing battle against weeds stretches across hundreds of miles of canals and laterals. Piping of some irrigation canals results not only in water savings but savings of energy, time and herbicide to spray the weeds off open ditches. This translates economically and environmentally to a healthier bottom line. However, due to piping cost and the sheer size of the District, they must rely primarily on traditional spraying.
The District's Maintenance Director, Leo Barrett says, "Staying on top of these weeds is a big part of what we do during the maintenance season. The job requires a great amount of skill, eye - hand coordination and understanding what they're mowing, because they've got all kinds of obstacles in their way." These obstacles include gates, turnouts and concrete headers, all of which do not respond well to being impacted by a piece of heavy equipment. The District counts on well-trained equipment operators to handle this job throughout the year.
Complications include an increase in spray-resistant weeds across the country and the District is no exception. Staying on top of the issue is an ongoing challenge. Another aspect of weed control is managing "drift." Experts at www.farmmanagement.pro explain, "As spray drift occurs, a portion of the spray mix does not reach the target site, so the herbicide dose applied will be less than intended, often leading to poor or erratic control, and a waste of herbicide, time, and money."
Trained District operators use extreme caution to avoid this, ensuring that application rates are not harmful to animals or pedestrians who walk along the canal banks. Variables that go in to making the decision on how and when to spray for weeds are wind speed and direction, temperatures and chance of rain.
EBID practices careful and efficient use of herbicides, managing drift by controlling flow rate in spray applications and by careful direction of spray nozzles as well as monitoring of wind and weather conditions.
Barrett explains that the District uses an additive to minimize the drift. This changes the pH level of the water the herbicide is mixed with so the chemical bonds to the weeds. Herbicides used are also non-volatizing, staying on the weeds, not in the air. This helps the District accomplish cost effective weed control while protecting people, pets and desired plants; everything but the weed.
State of the Aquifer: Update with Groundwater Hydrologist Erek FuchsEBID Report
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Hatch/ Rincon Valley
National Ag Day: Thank a Farmerby Karen Ray
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The Road Less Traveled: EBID and the Roads ActEBID Staff Report
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Community Agencies Conduct Dam Breach/Flooding Table Top Exerciseby Karen Ray for EBID
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|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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