Back to square one: NM CAP Entity approves costly Gila diversion alternative

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Yesterday the New Mexico CAP Entity approved for environmental analysis a large-scale Gila River diversion proposal that could cost well over $800 million. After the latest round of project analysis and study, the Entity has made little progress in identifying a viable project. The proposed action greatly exceeds the amount of available funding, will harm the river’s threatened and endangered species, and will negatively impact recreation opportunities in the upper Cliff-Gila Valley.

The Entity’s proposed project consists of a large diversion dam at the Gila gage at the upper end of the Cliff-Gila Valley, storage reservoirs in Spar and Winn canyons, aquifer storage and recharge (ASR) at multiple locations, pump stations, a reconfiguration of the existing irrigation diversions and ditches, and an extensive system of pipelines and siphons. Technical concerns remain, such as significant environmental impacts, the amount of water the project can provide given the limitations on when water can be diverted under the AWSA, and feasibility of aquifer storage.

Additionally, the CAP Entity discussed an initial phase including aquifer storage and recharge, an approach the Bureau of Reclamation rejected in a 2014 study as infeasible on technical and financial grounds. The amount of water available with this ASR scheme is unknown due the lack of information about aquifer storage capacity and how long the water would stay in the Cliff-Gila Valley before running downstream. It’s possible that all the available funding could be exhausted with little water being made available.

The Entity’s decision initiates the first step in the environmental compliance phase of the diversion project. Scoping under the National Environmental Policy Act will begin in late 2016/early 2017.

More information:

Draft NM CAP Entity Alternatives Report

Albuquerque Journal – 7/11/16 – Board picks two Gila diversion projects

Audio recordings of 7/11/16 NM CAP Entity Meeting – Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4