Residents question ISC officials

Interstate Streams Commission Director Debra Dixon speaks to residents at Tucumcari High School on Monday about the ISC’s application for control of water below Ute Reservoir.

Interstate Streams Commission Director Debra
Dixon speaks to residents at Tucumcari High School
on Monday about the ISC’s application for control of
water below Ute Reservoir.

By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer

The Interstate Streams Commission would not respond Monday to requests from Quay County residents, local officials and state organizations to withdraw its application for the control of the control of water in the Canadian River below the Ute Lake Reservoir dam.

The main topic discussed at the hearing, conducted at Tucumcari High School, was the ISC’s application to the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer for water control of the Canadian River and tributary sources including the Revuelto Creek below Ute Lake Reservoir to the Texas State Line.

“What everyone is asking for is that the ISC withdraw its application and start the process over and work with the residents and landowners to develop a new application that addresses everyone’s concerns and meets all of our needs,” said District 1 Quay County Commissioner Sue Dowell.

Dowell was one of several officials requesting the ISC withdraw its application for the water control during the meeting. New Mexico Cattle Grower Association Executive Director Caren Cowman and Quay County Farm and Livestock President Rick Thompson requested the ISC withdraw. T-4 Ranch owner Phil Bidegain presented the ISC with written complaints about its application and requested the application be withdrawn.

If the ISC gains control of the water, it could set a precedent that could affect all the water rights in the state, said Luna County Manager Charles Jackson.

Colfax County is getting into this issue late, said County Chairman Bill Sauble. “However, being on the headwaters of the Canadian River, there are some concerns about this application and I formally request the ISC withdraw its application,” saidSauble.

“There was little publication about this application and what I and other land owners are asking is for a long and full disclosure from the ISC in order for everyone to fully understand what you are doing,” said Quay County resident Bill Humphries.

The main concern shared by residents, local, state and various county officials was the lack of information available to the public concerning the application. A secondary concern was that Monday’s meeting was the only public meeting the ISC had held and had come long after its application had already been submitted to the OSE.

What the ISC hopes to accomplish with this meeting is to explain to the residents the reason for the application said ISC Director Debra Dixon.

“Though the ISC will not make any obligation other than to listen to your concerns an take them into consideration,” Dixon said.

“This meeting may not have taken place if Sen. Pat Woods and I had not approached the ISC to come to Tucumcari, meet with the people, to hear their concerns about the application for control of the water,” said state Rep. Dennis Roch.

ISC attorneys Kim Bannerman and Craig Roepke explained the reason for the application for the control of the water and how it was done to protect the interest and rights of the residents, communities and landowners along those waters.

Roepke said this application is vital to the ISC’s efforts to ensure its responsibility to provide water for the continued survival of the threatened Arkansas River shiner, which has a habitat south of the reservoir on the Canadian River. He said the ISC’s application for control of the water will allow them to designate the seepage from the Dam at Ute Reservoir as a Strategic Water Reserve that is needed to ensure the continued survival of the threatened species and prevent the declaration of a critical habitat by the federal government.

Roepke said the ISC’s development of a Arkansas River shiner management plan includes the Strategic Water Reserve and will keep the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from designating a critical habitat along the Canadian River as it intended in 2001. He said if there was a critical habitat established, it could affect land use along that area and possibly result in the required release of 33 cubic feet of water per second at Ute Resrvoir.

“So what the ISC is saying is in order to prevent a take by the federal government we should be OK with a take from the state government,” Roch said.

“If the ISC’s intent is just to protect the seepage water from the dam at Ute Reservoir why does the application include the request for control of the water of tributary sources including the Revuelto Creek?” asked Quay County Attorney Warren Frost.

Bannerman said the application for the control of the tributary sources was made because studies show the spurts of runoff from those sources create a favorable spawning environment for the Arkansas River shiner. She said the original ISC application for control of the water was denied by the state engineer’s office although an amended application was submitted for a non-consumptive control of the water. This means their will be no acre feet taken from the Canadian River or the tributary sources and no points of diversion would be created along the shorelines, Bannerman added.

In similar situations on the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers, the ISC has purchased or leased senior water rights but has chosen not to do so in this instance, said Tom Sidwell, a Quay County rancher, who added that the ISC already has authority to designate the waters needed for the Arkansas River shiner and should exercise its existing authority and not try to create a new authority.

Bannerman said the application, if granted, would prevent another party from making a similar claim to the water along the river. Bannerman said the application for control of these waters has been an ongoing issue for the ISC. The most recent application was denied but after review a new application was submitted the request.

Tucumcari Mayor Robert Lumpkin asked Bannerman what the current condition of the Arkansas River shiner was and how did it fair during the recent drought.

Bannerman said the Arkansas River shiner is doing well and the application for the control of the water is to ensure its continued success. She said in the event that the seepage water was not enough to sustain the Arkansas River shiner, the ISC would not require landowners to release water or restrict them from the collection of water along the tributary sources.

Sidwell asked if the ISC had included that exact language and clause in its current application with the Office of the State Engineer.

Bannerman said there is no clause or language that stated the ISC will not require landowners to release water or restrict them from the collection of water along the tributary sources.

“So in essence, there is no language that says the ISC won’t choose to do so at a later time,” Sidwell said.

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