By Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project
Gila River advocates received great holiday news Dec. 20 as the Department of Interior denied a deadline extension on the Gila River diversion, cutting off access to more than $50 million in construction funding for the project that would harm New Mexico’s last wild river and divert money from local communities with critical water supply needs.
The Department of Interior letter says “The slow pace of progress by the State since the passage of the Act shows a lack of urgency and priority by the State for delivering water supplies to rural communities that could be served by the project. Even today, a feasible project with necessary funding and contractual commitments has not been identified to enable project success. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that due to the State’s failure to make progress, an extension of the deadline identified in Section 212(i) of the Act will not be granted.”
Planning for a Gila River diversion has gone on for 15 years and wasted $15 million without producing plans for a viable project.
It’s well past time to move on and focus our attention and the tens of millions of dollars in funding available to New Mexico under the Arizona Water Settlement Act on community water projects that can bring real water security to everyone in southwest New Mexico.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, Sen. Tom Udall, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales all have supported protection of the Gila River and use of Arizona Water Settlement Act funding on cost-effective non-diversion projects. Additionally, they opposed an extension of the deadline for the diversion. We appreciate their hard work to protect the Gila.
And thanks to you for being with us every step of the way over the past 15 years and doing your part to support Gila River protection!
We look forward to working with the governor in 2020 to determine the best way to spend New Mexico’s Arizona Water Settlement Act funds on local water projects and protect the Gila for future generations.
However, it’s not over ’til it’s over. The New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, which was formed to plan, construct and maintain a diversion project, is expected to continue its efforts to build a diversion. Although it lost $50 million in construction funding with the Interior Department’s decision, it is eligible to use New Mexico Unit funding under the federal law if approved by the Interstate Stream Commission and if it can obtain a Record of Decision under the National Environmental Protection Act. There is currently
$60 million in the NM Unit Fund, with $18 million more to come from the federal government.