The staff of the Interstate Stream Commission has recommended that New Mexico tap in to available federal dollars to divert the Gila River in a boondoggle of a project that is both expensive and bad for the environment. The commission itself should say no to this project, which is possible through the terms of the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act. That decision could take place Monday.
That 2004 settlements act entitles New Mexico to an average of 14,000 acre-feet of water a year, or some 4.5 billion gallons. To capture that water, the federal government has said it would make available up to $128 million in federal funding.
Trouble is, estimates for the total diversion project, including reservoirs and pipelines, have risen as high as $740 million. Even if that figure is inflated, that’s still millions that New Mexico must fork over.
Running the system is estimated to cost from $3 million to $8 million a year. To pay for it, water rates for customers in southwestern New Mexico would have to increase — many say rates would skyrocket past affordability.
The deadline for New Mexico to notify the U.S. secretary of the interior is Dec. 31 under terms of the act. Supporters don’t want to lose the federal funds; but it’s important to point out that even without the diversion project, the state still would be eligible for about half the $128 million. That money that could be directed to other, more sustainable water projects — and the combination of conservation and better management of groundwater supplies could meet the region’s water needs without harming the river.
That river, one of the last remaining free-flowing rivers, is home to birds, fish and wild creatures who need riparian habitat to thrive. Its very wildness attracts outdoors lovers year-round. Those adventurers boost the regional economy, and an overblown construction project and diversion would reduce the region’s attraction.
Norman Gaume, who himself once directed the Interstate Stream Commission, is a fierce critic of the diversion. He told the Senate Conservation Committee earlier this year the plans “are fatally flawed and extremely expensive.” He believes the state should spend limited dollars elsewhere. He’s right.
The recommendation has been made, but the members of the Interstate Stream Commission still must make the final call. On Monday, they should say no to diversion and yes to conservation and preservation of a free-flowing river.
Turkeys in short supply
Calling all turkeys! Calling all turkeys!
Actually, we’re calling all lovers of the traditional Thanksgiving feast to donate turkeys — The Food Depot sent out a bulletin late last week telling Santa Fe that it is low on turkey donations this holiday season. Those turkeys are given to shelters, pantries and soup kitchens so that all can share in this annual feast.
Frozen turkeys can be dropped off at 1222-A Siler between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. For donations of 10 turkeys or more, call 471-1633, ext. 14, and schedule a bird pickup.
Turkey Day wouldn’t be the same without everyone enjoying the feast. Be generous, Santa Fe. You’ll enjoy your second helping that much more.