Arch Hurley board establishes guidelines for public comment

After a stormy board meeting on May 14, the Arch Hurley Irrigation District board established guidelines for public comment and applied themTuesday at their monthly meeting.

The new guidelines, drawn up after consultation with the state attorney general state that public comment must not include questions to the board and must only address matters not on the board agenda.

Three persons made brief comments, but expressed displeasure at being unable to ask questions of the board.

Board Vice President Phillip Box read a statement addressing issues raised during public comments in the meeting of May 14.

Some who commented had apparently criticized the board for inaction on having payments to the district suspended until the current drought subsides.

In his statement, Box said district board members have attempted several times to persuade U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials to defer payments for debt service until the drought subsides in order to provide financial relief to district members.

Even though the district has not allocated any water to its irrigation customers this year, the customers continue to make payments to the district.

District Manager Franklin McCasland said payments are mandated by the federal Bureau of Reclamation to service a debt with a balance of $1.9 million. The debt pays for construction of the district’s intake structures and irrigation canals.

Box’s statement outlined communications with bureau officials that started last fall. The district’s first request for debt relief was met with a proposal that the district pay $25,000 for a study of economic impact before the bureau could make a recommendation. The board later rejected that plan, according to Box’s statement.

At the National Water Resources Association meeting in San Diego, Calif., Box, District Board President Larry Perkins and McCasland met with bureau officials, who promised to go over the contract between the bureau and the district “with a fine tooth comb” to find opportunities to either suspend or eliminate payments, Box’s statement said.

After this examination, the statement said, three commissioners and McCasland met a month later with area bureau officials in Albuquerque. They were given two options, either to seek Congressional action or to seek a supplemental contract from the bureau that would allow suspension of payments.

The district is still awaiting results of their request for a supplemental contract, McCasland said.

McCasland said the original amount of the debt was $5 million. The district continues to pay about $60,000 per year to service the debt and collects these funds from district members, he said.

McCasland reported the level of Conchas Lake has dipped to 4,153 feet above sea level, 51 feet below the level of floodgates at the Conchas Dam. The lake’s current volume of water is at 57,821 acre feet, only about 18 percent of the 315,735 acre-foot level when the lake is full, McCasland said.

The current drought has caused a loss of nearly 258,000 acre feet, McCasland said.

In May, McCasland said, the lake received about 590 acre-feet of water, but lost nearly 1,800 acre feet to evaporation and other losses.

An acre-foot is equal to 236,000 gallons, roughly the equivalent of the water used by two families of four in a year.

McCasland said in a normal year, a 10-acre farm would be allotted about 35 acre-feet of water.

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