Public Outcry Escalates Over Gila River Diversion Ahead of DOI Deadline

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 17, 2015

CONTACT:  Staci Stevens, Audubon New Mexico, sstevens@audubon.org, c: 202-294-3101

Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition, allysonsiwik@gmail.com, c: 575-590-7619

 

Public Outcry Escalates Over Gila River Diversion Ahead of DOI Deadline

SILVER CITY, N.M. (November 17, 2015) –The Department of the Interior has a deadline of November 23 to decide whether to green-light the design and development of a large-scale diversion on the Gila, New Mexico’s last undammed river. Public outcry over the billion-dollar proposal has been steadily escalating, with nearly 54,000 signatures collected this past month on a petition to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell calling on her to reject the costly diversion and permanently protect the Gila River.

The controversy is centered on a proposal to build a large diversion project to take Gila River water and pump it over the Continental Divide to farms and urban areas in southern New Mexico. This is the fourth attempt to dam and divert the iconic southwestern river.

“This river is the lifeblood of the Desert Southwest. Damming it would be like paving over the Everglades,” said Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Gila is a biological gem that boasts one of the most diverse concentrations of breeding birds in the country,” added Julie Weinstein, executive director of Audubon New Mexico. “This area deserves permanent protection, not a diversion that would destroy the river as we know it.”

The Gila River watershed includes the nation’s first designated Wilderness Area and the last main-stem river in New Mexico without a major dam or diversion. Named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers in 2014, the area is home to more than 360 species of birds and the most intact native fish community in the Colorado River Basin.

The Gila River acts as the linchpin for the area’s robust outdoor recreation economy, including activities such as birding, fishing, hunting and boating and New Mexico sportsmen and women are among the vocal opponents of the proposed diversion. “The stretch of river in the proposal offers fantastic fishing and hunting opportunities that could be destroyed by a diversion,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “New Mexico should be leading the way in wise, conservative water use instead of this wasteful and outdated approach.”

According to a Bureau of Reclamation study from June of 2015, the Gila River diversion is expected to be hugely expensive, with construction costs estimated at $800M to $1 billion. Federal funding will pay for only a small fraction of the project’s costs, leaving a gap of up to $900+ million for state taxpayers and water users to cover.

“Damming and diverting this natural treasure, when there are more affordable and effective solutions available, runs contrary to common sense and to ongoing efforts to conserve our great outdoors for future generations,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

Federal funds could otherwise be spent now on cost-effective, non-diversion projects like municipal and agricultural conservation, effluent reuse, watershed restoration, infrastructure improvements and sustainable groundwater management. These projects would meet southwest New Mexico’s future water needs for a fraction of the cost while protecting the unique ecology of the Gila River for future generations to enjoy.

“The public has spoken up and overwhelmingly rejects this diversion and so should the Secretary of the Interior,” said Allyson Siwik, Silver City, New Mexico resident and Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition.

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