NM Legislators Skeptical of Gila Diversion Project

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For Immediate Release

August 31, 2015

Allyson Siwik, Executive Director, Gila Conservation Coalition
575.590.7619 cell; allysonsiwik@gmail.com

New Mexico Legislators Skeptical of Gila Diversion Project
Billion Dollar Costs Insurmountable

Silver City, NM – The New Mexico Legislature’s Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony about the Gila River diversion project at its meeting in Silver City today and voiced overwhelming skepticism about the financial feasibility of the billion dollar project.

Darr Shannon, Hidalgo County Commissioner and New Mexico CAP Entity chairperson, said that she recognized the “huge” amount of money required to build a Gila River diversion and that her group does not know how it will fund the high cost to construct the project, but the NM CAP Entity is made up of members who are “independent thinkers” and “have passion” to determine how to build the project. She went on to say that NM CAP Entity members know how to use shovels and will figure out how to build the project.

“The Gila River diversion project won’t be built with a shovel and the NM CAP Entity’s passion won’t pay the billion dollar price tag,” stated Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition.

The Bureau of Reclamation recently facilitated for the NM Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) a Value Planning Study to develop alternatives for a Gila River diversion project. Despite a call by local water boosters to downsize diversion options and a demonstrated local reluctance to pay for a diversion, the ISC insisted all alternatives identified and evaluated would divert the maximum amount of water available under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA). The Value Planning Study confirmed estimates that the Gila River diversion project is likely to cost $1B or more when including costs for operations and maintenance over the life of the project.

The Value Study made it clear that all alternatives evaluated included complete build out of diversion, conveyance and storage facilities in phases to deliver water over the Continental Divide to Deming and would require environmental analysis on the entire project. The Value Study alternatives all looked at phasing, with Phase 1 construction costs for most alternatives ranging from 2-4 times the funding currently available. The only Phase 1 alternative identified that could be paid for with existing funding was exposed as not meeting water storage targets and as having questionable functionality.

Siwik continued, “There’s no free lunch here. The ISC continues to push for a huge fatally-flawed diversion with all the technical, financial, and environmental problems everyone has been talking about for more than a decade and they are insisting local communities in southwest New Mexico have to pay for it.”

Former ISC director, Norm Gaume, has been critical of the Gila River diversion, citing several fatal flaws that make the project infeasible. Gaume stated, “The proposed New Mexico Unit deserves the Legislature’s scrutiny and oversight. The ISC and its consultants, acting as the State of New Mexico, have spent millions to define a workable project but have met failure at every turn. That’s because a workable project is impossible, physically and financially. How long will the State of New Mexico continue to pretend otherwise?”

Because of the tight constraints of the AWSA, water available for diversion could occur less frequently than 1 in 10 years. The NM Unit will be inordinately expensive due to construction of high capacity diversion facilities that will be infrequently utilized, the absence of suitable storage reservoir sites, and the distance of conveyance. Lining storage reservoirs to reduce seepage losses is required for the project to function, but will be hugely expensive and technically challenging given the large area and steep slopes. The cost of water to end users could be greater than $8000/acre-foot and municipal water rates in Deming could increase more than 10 times.