Friday, January 20, 2006

Wacky Weekend

It looks like this will be the weekend that Carol Anne gets in much more sailing than the rest of us. Carol Anne and a lot of the women want to practice this weekend down at Elephant Butte, but the helm I'll be at tonight will be a hunk of furniture in a home in Santa Fe.

The New Mexico Sailing Club will have its first meeting of the year there at our past commodore's home; we'll be munching pizzas and stuff and thrashing through the club budget. The big challenge in this green-eye-shades number-crunching exercise is uncertainty. It's also a relatively novel challenge for our club, which for many years enjoyed the luxury of relatively stable lake levels and a marina that was so popular that the club had a long waiting list of would-be slip tenants. The marina was located in a cove near the head of the lake; the cove was connected to the main body of the lake by a relatively constricted channel called "The Narrows" and was fairly well protected from waves from the main body of the lake.

From 1971, when the dam was completed and Heron Lake began to fill, lake levels on the 400,000 acre-foot reservoir were quite constant. The lake would be drawn down to about 70% of capacity in the winter and be nearly filled in the spring. Variations were encompassed in a narrow band. Then, a few years ago, severe drought made itself felt in New Mexico and political uncertainties about water use compounded the problem. Two-thirds of the lake disappeared in 2002, reducing the water level in our cove by more than fifty feet below the high-water mark.
Another problem surfaced with the unprecedented low water: a thick cake of silt, about twenty-five feet of it, had been deposited during the previous three decades. No equipment was locally available to deal with the silt, and even if equipment and environmental concerns could have been met, removal of the silt from the marina cove would likely have been a multi-million-dollar effort.

The rising silt and lowering lake put the marina in a squeeze; the result was a shortened season in 2002 and a long-term closure of the marina in August of 2003. The marina would not float again under May of 2005 and would not be re-opened until August of 2005. During that period, the New Mexico Sailing Club was debilitated by a lack of plan and purpose. The plan to deal with the drought had been limited to heroic efforts to partially dis-assemble the marina before it grounded so that the weight of the structure would not completely destroy the marina's sensitive substructure. Although damage to the marina was limited, damage to the club continued. Membership dropped significantly. Club activities were limited to meetings. Many members simply didn't do any sailing at all during the drought; others were on their own for sailing activities.

With the arrival of water in 2005, the club was able, with a great deal of effort from a few people, to re-constitute the marina, secure insurance, open the marina, and hold a few activities. Even with less water in 2006, the club and marina are likely to be much more active than in 2005. The challenge is planning the club's future beyond the summer of 2006.

From a budget standpoint, the questions are (1) how much money will we get from slip rentals? (i.e., how many folks will show up this year) and (2) how much of that do we spend now to make the marina better and have activities to entice people?, versus (3) how much do we hold back to get the club through future dry spells?

From a decision standpoint, the question is, If later this year, it seems likely that the marina will suffer another hard grounding in the winter of 2006 2007, do we leave the marina in the cove or do we move the marina to deep water on the main lake?

In order to have to even have the choice to move the marina to the main lake, we'll need to have a plan and budget for the move, and permissions already in hand from various government agencies. Also, a marina on the main lake would need some protection from waves, such as the floating tire-wall wave barriers used to protect marinas at Elephant Butte Lake State Park in southern New Mexico or at Navajo Lake State Park in Arboles, Colorado. Many other details would have to be worked on, including a driveway to the marina, parking area, provision for a boat-storage lot, boat ramp, mast-raising pole, etc. So, one of the big "bureaucratic" challenges for the club is getting a drought emergency plan with a site selected, approvals completed, and prices attached to all the engineering and logistical tasks.


Post a Comment

<< Home