By Allyson Siwik, Chapter Executive Committee and Gila Resources Information Project
With just a few months left before initiation of the environmental-compliance phase and with no proposed action identified yet, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission continues its push for a Gila River diversion project to capture as much water as possible.
The local New Mexico Central Arizona Project (CAP) entity, responsible for the design of a diversion under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, must decide on a proposed action by July 11 in order to meet its schedule under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The ISC held a workshop recently to help the NM CAP entity reach consensus on a proposed action. Despite pushback from the entity, the agency is promoting large diversion and storage projects that rely on expensive pumping, exceed the amount of available AWSA funding to construct and are ecologically harmful.
Although a big project in the wild Upper Gila Box seems to be off the table for now, the combination of project components under discussion could divert as much water as the billion-dollar diversion and cause significant negative impacts to the hydrology and ecology of the Gila River.
The billion-dollar Upper Gila Box project could also re-emerge as part of the NEPA alternatives analysis.
It’s not time to let down our guard.
All of the diversion components currently on the table pose a threat to the Gila River.
Moving the location of the diversion infrastructure doesn’t take away the fact that water withdrawals anywhere on the Gila can negatively impact the natural flow of the river and consequently the myriad species that depend on the river’s free-flowing nature.
After more than a decade and millions of dollars spent on evaluation, the ISC and the NM CAP entity still have not identified a viable project. With environmental-compliance costs estimated at $10 million to $30 million, it is a waste of AWSA funding to continue to pursue such a lost cause, rather than use these federal dollars to implement needed local water projects.
The AWSA requires a NEPA record of decision by 2019.