Gila River, photo by Alan Stark

by Allyson Siwik
Gila Resources Information Project and Chapter Water Committee

On November 23, the U.S. Department of the Interior signed off on the New Mexico Unit Agreement, triggering the next phase of environmental and financial feasibility assessment of the Gila River diversion project under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Department of Interior insisted on “Supplemental Terms” being added to the agreement to clarify for the New Mexico CAP Entity, the local group now at the helm of planning the diversion project, what it was getting into by moving forward with a diversion.

The supplemental terms will increase accountability and hopefully lead to a robust environmental analysis of the proposed diversion. The important gains: financial feasibility and accountability; projects must be designed according to federal standards; less money may be available for diversion; and the full range of environmental compliance is necessary. Finally, the Secretary of the Interior can make an independent decision that is best for the environment.

If the environmental-compliance process is honest and rigorous, it’s highly unlikely that a diversion would be built due to huge costs, technical infeasibility, and damage to the river and the seven endangered species that depend on it.

The New Mexico CAP Entity is working to define a “proposed action,” as well as to evaluate how a billion-dollar diversion project can be financed. It is expected that National Environmental Policy Act scoping will begin sometime in mid-2016.

Under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, a Record of Decision is required by the end of 2019.

Learn more: Gila Resources Information Project | New Mexico Unit Agreement (10MB pdf)

Featured image: Gila River, photo by Alan Stark

Feds OK Gila River diversion — with conditions