The Gila River near the proposed diversion site.

The ‘politics’ of wrangling data on the Gila

A one-sentence provision in state law is emboldening at least one agency to keep public information from seeing the light of day. All officials have to do is accuse someone of having a political agenda. For more than a year, retired Interstate Stream Commission director Norman Gaume has wanted to know how much water farmers and others currently draw from the Gila River. That’s where the state plans to build a controversial new project that would divert more water from the river. Specifically, he wondered if water users are using the maximum amount of water they’re already allotted from the river.

The Gila River in southwestern New Mexico, downstream from Bill Evans Reservoir.

Billion dollar Gila diversion off the table

This week the state agency in charge of building a controversial diversion on the Gila River has reined in earlier – and costlier – plans for capturing the river’s water. The agency’s decision might mean good news for project critics who feared its environmental consequences and high cost. But many questions remain around how much money the state has to build the project, the location and scale of the diversion, and who would buy the water once it’s built.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, or NMCAPE, directed its engineering contractor to continue studying only those projects that would cost $80-100 million to build. That’s how much funding New Mexico anticipates receiving from the federal government to develop water from the Gila and perhaps its tributary, the San Francisco River. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Middle Fork of the Gila River. Photo Credit: Joe Burgess, Public Domain

Decision due on controversial Gila diversion

SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups fighting a plan to divert large amounts of water from the Gila River in New Mexico say today is the deadline for the federal government to green light the plan. The project would cut a significant amount of water from the river that normally flows into Arizona. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to announce whether funds will be allocated for the project. It would divert some 14,000-acre feet of water annually, and pump it over the Continental Divide to southern New Mexico. Staci Stevens, communications manager for the Audubon New Mexico, says the environmental impact statement and other studies for the project will have to clear some high hurdles.

Hakim Bellamy. Courtesy photo.

Everywhere is a Gila

Hakim Bellamy is the Inaugural Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, a position which he held from 2012 to 2014. Originating in America’s first designated wilderness area — a protection inspired by Aldo Leopold — New Mexico’s Gila River is a mainstay for the region’s recreation economy and a biological gem whose riparian forests boast one of the highest concentrations of breeding birds in the country. But it’s now at risk from a billion-dollar diversion project. After three failed attempts to dam and divert this still-wild river, developers are hoping the fourth time’s a charm. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has until November 23 to decide whether to allow the project to go through.

Veronica C. García, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children.Courtesy photo

Public investments in our precious resources must be smart, sustainable

Veronica C. García, Ed.D. is the executive director, New Mexico Voices for Children
New Mexico has a long history of forging innovative solutions to a whole host of problems. Our know-how and ingenuity have influenced everything from the creation of the personal computer to the exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond. Surely we can come up with workable solutions for the myriad problems we face here at home. One long-term problem—child poverty—has worsened and recently released Census numbers drop New Mexico to the very bottom in the nation, with 30 percent of our children living at or below the poverty level (just $24,250 for a family of four). Poverty is a complex issue, but one that we ignore at our peril. Brain science and biology show us that the damaging effects of poverty on a young child’s development are irreversible.

Middle Fork of the Gila River. Photo Credit: Joe Burgess, Public Domain

Child advocacy group lines up against Gila diversion

The next major water project in New Mexico could be diverting the last free-flowing river in New Mexico, the Gila River. New Mexico Voices for Children became the latest group to criticize the diversion, saying the amount of money spent on it could better be spent in other ways in the state, citing a potential $1 billion cost. The cost of a diversion plan are highly debated. Some say that it would cost $330 million, others that it would cost $1 billion. When the Interstate Stream Commission voted to move ahead on the diversion, opponents of the plan pegged the cost at between $575 million and $1 billion.

The Santa Fe River.Photo Credit: ATIS547 cc

Obama admin finalizes sweeping water protection rule

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized a rule that environmental groups say restores protections to streams and headwaters while Republicans called it another example of President Barack Obama’s executive overreach. Obama said that the action will help protect streams, lakes and other smaller bodies of water with connections to rivers and larger bodies of water that are already covered by the Clean Water Act. “This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable,” Obama said in a statement released on Tuesday. “My Administration has made historic commitments to clean water, from restoring iconic watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes to preserving more than a thousand miles of rivers and other waters for future generations,” he continued. Essentially the Waters of the United States rule, as it is known, formalizes what the Clean Water Act means for “navigable waters.”