from our friends at the Gila Conservation Coalition:

Diversion, dam and pipeline proposals threaten Gila River

Help keep the Gila River free-flowing!

On February 29, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) will decide on the handful of projects that will move forward for final consideration under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA), leading up to the December 2014 deadline for notifying the Department of the Interior whether or not New Mexico will develop Gila River water.

As part of this process, the ISC released the Tier 2 evaluation panel rankings of stakeholder proposals submitted under the Arizona Water Settlements Act planning process.

Although the Gila Conservation Coalition's municipal conservation proposal scores at the top of the list, three of the top four ranked proposals are large scale diversion, dam and pipeline projects that would withdraw 14,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Gila, impound it in an off-stream reservoir, and pipe it to Deming or other population centers or use it for agricultural use.

The Gila River is vital to our economy in southwest New Mexico. It is the last free-flowing, main-stem river in the state and one of the few remaining in the Southwest. Rich in natural and cultural history, the Gila contributes significant economic benefits to our counties through ecosystem services, enhanced property values, aesthetics, recreation and tourism, and scientific and educational opportunities. The Gila supports a naturally reproducing sport fishery and is a birding hotspot of the Southwest.

A costly, unnecessary dam and pipeline would forever change the Gila River's unique ecology, compromising the economic, environmental and recreational benefits the Gila provides, and put a financial burden on local water users for decades to come.

There has been no demonstrated need for Gila River water. Studies show that the regional aquifer contains enough water to supply Silver City for hundreds of years. Deming's 2009 water plan states that the community has already acquired enough water rights to meet future demand over the 40-year planning period. Moreover, as much as 25,000 acre-feet of mining water rights lay fallow in the Gila and Mimbres basins and could provide a cushion for municipal and industrial use as mining activity winds down over the next 30 years.

We can't afford it. The construction cost for the Deming Diversion Project, #3 on the evaluation panel's ranking list, will cost $325 million-more than double the promised $128 million federal subsidy. The additional cost would be shouldered by water users and local governments, burdening our local communities with debt and unnecessarily high water rates.

The project won't benefit the local area. The state is scrambling to meet obligations to big cities in New Mexico and Texas. It's almost certain that this water will leave the local area and get piped to the Rio Grande and on to Texas, especially given that this water is too expensive for water users in southwest New Mexico.

The responsible choice provides real solutions for southwest New Mexico's long-term water needs at a fraction of the cost. There is $66 million available to fund common-sense, cost-effective water projects. These proposals received strong support at last week's NM First Town Hall meeting at which stakeholders from throughout southwest New Mexico provided input on the twenty projects submitted for Tier 2 evaluation.

Grant County Regional Water Supply meets a real water need now by providing a long-term, sustainable water supply to 26,000 people including Mining District communities with an extremely urgent need, such as Hurley that has no water rights.

Water Reuse Projects in Bayard and Deming Given that Bayard will no longer be able to discharge treated effluent from its wastewater treatment plant into one of the Chino mine tailings ponds, this project is a priority for putting the treated effluent to beneficial use through watering of ballparks and a new cemetery, saving the town 528 acre-feet of water per year. Deming's reuse project will water parks and recreational facilities and initially save 328 acre-feet of water per year.

Agricultural Conservation, such as conversion to drip irrigation and irrigation ditch and diversion improvements, have the potential to significantly improve irrigation efficiency and reduce water demand from the agricultural sector, the largest water user in the four-county area.

Municipal Conservation has the potential to save 4,200 acre-feet of water annually throughout southwest New Mexico. Water conservation measures reduce the demand for water in a cost-effective manner and therefore reduce the need to develop costly new water supplies.

IT'S UP TO YOU: Support an affordable long-term water supply that benefits local economies by contacting the Interstate Stream Commissioners BY FEBRUARY 28.

Tell the ISC that you support responsible, cost-effective non-diversion alternatives that secure our water future at low cost and keep the Gila River flowing, such as the Grant County Regional Water Supply project, Bayard and Deming reuse projects, and municipal and agricultural conservation. These projects should be evaluated during the 2012 - 2013 assessment phase of the AWSA planning process.

As a follow-up to the positive NM First Town Hall, we strongly request full public participation in review of work plans during the 2012 - 2013 assessment phase of the planning process.

Interstate Stream Commission Members - please bcc: info@gilaconservation.org so we can keep track of emails to the commissioners. Thanks!