Press Release: Conservationists reject Gila diversion alternatives

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 11, 2020

Contact:        Allyson Siwik, Executive Director, Gila Conservation Coalition

                       575.590.7619 cell, info@gilaconservation.org

Conservationists reject Gila diversion alternatives

Proposed action is unaffordable, not economically viable,

and ecologically harmful

Silver City, NM – On Monday, on behalf of 47 local, state, and national conservation, sportsmen, outdoor recreation organizations and businesses, the Gila Conservation Coalition submitted public comments on the environmental impact statement for the Gila River diversion project. Commenters supported the No Action Alternative and rejected all diversion alternatives.

“The diversion alternatives do not pass even minimum standards of viability,” stated Gila Conservation Coalition Executive Director Allyson Siwik. “All alternatives considered produce negative economic benefits, with costs exceeding benefits by three to four times. Farmers can’t afford to pay for the project water under any of the alternatives, and the diversion project harms threatened and endangered species and riparian habitat along the Gila and San Francisco Rivers.”

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Gila River diversion project (NM Unit) proposed by the NM Central Arizona Project (CAP) Entity. As joint leads for the environmental compliance process the BOR and the ISC asked for public comment on four diversion/storage action alternatives and the no action alternative.

The Gila diversion project was proposed by the NM Central Arizona Project (CAP) Entity, a group of 14 representatives from local governments, community ditches, and soil and water conservation districts in southwest New Mexico. Gila diversion planning has gone on for more than 15 years and wasted $16 million without producing a feasible project.

“The DEIS omits analysis of the non-diversion projects under the No Action Alternative,” said Donna Stevens, Executive Director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and a partner in the Gila Conservation Coalition. “Non-diversion community water projects could benefit thousands of people throughout southwest New Mexico, while the diversion project would benefit very few irrigators – approximately 50 in Cliff-Gila Valley, 25 in the San Francisco Valley and 33 in the Virden Valley and potentially use up all of the AWSA funds that could otherwise be used to build resilient community water supplies throughout the four-county area.”

Flowing out of America’s first Wilderness Area, the wild Gila and San Francisco Rivers have been under threat from harmful water diversion and storage projects for decades. As the last free-flowing river in New Mexico, the Gila and its tributary the San Francisco is home to seven threatened or endangered species and are the centerpiece of the region’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy.  Federal legislation was recently introduced to designate 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries as Wild and Scenic.

“Models show that the diversion could increase drying of the river,” said Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, and a partner in the Gila Conservation Coalition. “This could cause disappearance of riverside forests important to threatened and endangered birds, like the yellow-billed cuckoo and southwestern willow flycatcher and take away water from the endangered loach minnow and spikedace, which are on the cusp of extinction,” added Schulke.

“It’s well past time to stop wasting NM Unit Funds on the failed Gila diversion planning process. The DEIS demonstrates that the No Action Alternative is the best choice. It’s critical that we move forward and direct AWSA funding to high priority community water projects, such as water infrastructure projects in Hanover, Santa Clara and Deming and water treatment in Lordsburg,” stated GCC’s Siwik.

The Gila Conservation Coalition’s public comments can be downloaded from the following link: 

https://tinyurl.com/yaorda48

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