A collaborative effort between GCC and the WNMU Expressive Arts Program documentary film class, The Gila River is in Our Hands explores the value of the wild Gila River, how it is currently threatened by powerful interests intent on diverting its waters, and how we can meet our future water needs while also protecting its free flow.
NM Interstate Stream Commission Approves Modification of Gila River Diversions without Public Input
Albuquerque, NM –The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) Commissioners approved yesterday modifications to proposals to divert water from the Gila River without any public input or commission oversight. Seven of fifteen projects being evaluated under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) were modified. Only three had received public review and comment prior to yesterday’s ISC meeting. Three of the remaining projects are large-scale water diversion projects on the Gila River and were approved for modification by the ISC without any public review or comment on preliminary engineering analyses.
“This is nothing new for ISC staff. Throughout the ten-year planning process ISC staff has consistently tried to limit public participation under the Arizona Water Settlements Act,” said Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition.
The ISC staff also requested that commissioners grant them authority to modify 15 Arizona Water Settlements Act projects as “staff sees fit” and without review and approval by the ISC. Worried about “public perception” and that the requested authority would constitute “pre-approval of AWSA projects,” commissioners denied the request as written and approved a motion to allow staff to investigate and recommend further optimization of projects “subject to review and approval by the ISC.”
“We commend ISC commissioners for recognizing that ISC staff can’t be given carte blanche to do whatever they want and that checks and balances are needed to ensure the integrity of the AWSA planning process,” said Siwik. “At the same time, however, we are very concerned that the ISC approved changes to four diversion projects without any public input. Engineering information was available to allow staff to make these recommended changes, but yet the information has not been shared with stakeholders. This lack of transparency is unacceptable and contributes to the ongoing perception that the ISC disregards its own process as it pursues a Gila River diversion project. The ISC needs to immediately make this information publicly available.”
The Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004 gave New Mexico the option to divert water from the Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, if the state agreed to pay for water from Arizona to replace what is diverted. The AWSA provided $66M for community water projects to meet local water needs and up to $62M more if New Mexico elects to divert the river. Stakeholders have been engaged in a planning process to determine the best way to cost-effectively meet southwest New Mexico’s future water needs under the AWSA.
Support the Gila River: AWSA Public Meeting Oct 21, Gila-San Francisco Water Commission Meeting Oct 22
According to the Interstate Stream Commission, the agenda for the meeting will include:
- Don’t Divert the Gila Petition Presentation (Ella Kirk) – Come out to support Aldo Leopold HS student, Ella Kirk!
- Drip Irrigation (Boyd/Conway)
- USGS Basin depletions Report (ISC)
- Grant County Water Commission Effluent Re-Use Proposal Draft PER (William J Miller Engineering)
- Grant County Effluent Re-Use Proposal (BHI)
- Deming Effluent Re-Use Proposal (ISC)
- Comment Schedule (ISC)
- Summary of Presentation to the Interim Water and Natural Resource Committee (ISC)
The 9th Annual Gila River Festival The Gila River is in Our Hands was held September 19 – 22 and examined the impacts of climate change on the Gila River and the Gila region and how we can meet our future water needs and ensure that a free-flowing Gila River, one of the last in the Southwest, continues to exist for future generations.
An audio recording of Kenneth Brower’s keynote address “Helping Water Win” is available on Gila/Mimbres Community Radio’s Earth Matters any time via podcast. Brower learned about environmental issues – such as misguided dam projects like Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River – from his father, the great conservationist David Brower. Together, they worked on many Sierra Club publications, which increased public awareness of the nation’s wild places and the need to protect them. Kenneth Brower’s most recent book, The Wildness Within: Remembering David Brower, honors his father on the centennial of his birth. Brower passes along words of wisdom to help in the current battle to protect New Mexico’s Gila River.
An audio recording of Dr. Tom Swetnam’s talk “Wildfire and Climate Changes in the Southwest: Past, Present and Future” presented at the 9th Annual Gila River Festival will be available on Gila/Mimbres Community Radio’s Earth Matters Tuesday 10/8/13 and Thursday 10/10/13 at 10 am and 8 pm via web stream and any time via podcast. Swetnam is Regents’ Professor and director of the laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. He discusses how multi-year droughts and extensive forest fires have occurred repeatedly during past centuries, but recent events are extraordinary in several ways. Wildfire problems in the western U.S. arise from the combined effects of a century of human-land uses, rising temperatures, reduced rainfall and snowpacks, invasive plants, and people building homes within highly burnable landscapes. Impacts of recent extreme events include reduced river flows, high severity wildfires that convert forests to grasslands and shrublands, soil erosion and degraded watersheds. Historical documents and tree-ring data from the Southwestern U.S., including from the upper Gila watershed, reveal the details of the causes and consequences of these changes. Despite a gloomy outlook regarding future climate changes, we still have opportunities to learn and apply lessons from both the distant past and from recent outcomes of successful and unsuccessful forest and watershed restoration strategies.
The Gila Conservation Coalition’s film The Gila River Is In Our Hands is now available on line for those who missed the premiere during the Gila River Festival. A collaborative effort between GCC and the WNMU Expressive Arts Program documentary film class, The Gila River is in Our Hands explores the value of the wild Gila River, how it is currently threatened by powerful interests intent on diverting its waters, and how we can meet our future water needs while also protecting its free flow.
SILVER CITY >> A recent poll by an independent research firm shows that many New Mexicans oppose a Gila River diversion project. The poll, conducted in late June of this year by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican political and public affairs research firm, was commissioned by Protect the Flows, an organization that opposes such projects. Five hundred voters statewide were contacted, with an extra concentration on the five southwest counties nearest the Gila River – Grant, Luna, Hidalgo, Sierra and Dona Ana Counties.
The poll is released at a time when the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) is considering whether to use federal funding under the Arizona Water Settlements Act to divert 14,000 acre feet of water from the Gila River – or to pursue non-diversion conservation alternatives. The funds can only be used only in southwestern New Mexico and the water must be consumed in New Mexico and cannot be leased or marketed outside of New Mexico. Many projects have been proposed across southwestern New Mexico since 2001. The Gila River diversion project is estimated to cost $300 million dollars. The ISC will make their final recommendations to the Bureau of Reclamation no later than December 2014.
At their March 11 meeting, the Grant County Commission passed a resolution in conditional support of Sen. John Arthur Smith’s, D-Deming, proposal to use the funding to construct a pipe to carry water from the Gila River in Grant County to Deming and likely onward from there. The resolution caused an uproar in the crowd, as many voiced their opposition to such a project.
The resolution said the commission would support the project if and only if it was first amended to include several planned water projects in Grant County. Conditions included “diverting, retaining, conveying and recharging the aquifer within the borders of Grant County with waters available through the Arizona Water Settlement Act,” the long-planned regional water project by the Grant County Water Commission, and a permanent irrigation solution for the Gila Valley. The resolution said that only with the inclusion of these projects would Smith’s proposed Southwest New Mexico Regional Water Supply Project gain the support of the Grant County Commissioners.
Much of the public outcry came from the fact that at the time of their resolution, neither the commissioners nor County Manager John Saari had even seen the amended proposal.
Grant County Commission Chairman Brett Kasten has since said the commission had no choice but to support the measure the way they did. Kasten said he doesn’t believe the pipeline will ever happen but that if the commission didn’t get the local projects into the plan, Grant County would never see any of the available money for water projects; it would all go to the pipeline or other areas.
A majority of those polled said they oppose the idea of a Gila River diversion project and see it as “pricey band-aid” that will not offer a long term solution to solve water problems in the state.
Pollster Lori Weigel said that those polled viewed the project as a “temporary fix” – even though it would be a permanent structure because they believe we will continue to have droughts in the future, and lower snow pack, and we can only rely on rivers for so long, and we need to be doing more to reduce demand rather than seeking out new supplies.
“A purely infrastructure project that didn’t have some sort of efficiency aspect to it is not something they consider a long-term solution,” she said.
According to those polled, 85 percent favor using our current water supply more wisely by continuing to conserve water, and using new technology to help reduce wasted water, and increasing water recycling. Examples of preferred more cost-effective measures include: increasing conservation at home by using drought resistant plants, replacing outdated water infrastructure to reduce leaks and, water-saving irrigation incentives for farmers and ranchers.
Weigel said there is more opposition to the proposal in rural areas, and in the Southwest part of the state, and the more people hear about the details of a Gila River diversion project, the more they oppose it.
When initially asked, just under half of those polled indicate support for “the state of New Mexico helping to fund the construction of a pipeline to divert water from the Gila River in western New Mexico over the Continental Divide to cities and farms in southwestern New Mexico.” But support drops to 36 percent after those polled heard a brief explanation of why diversion is being considered and what it would entail – and fewer than one-in-three say are willing to pay more in taxes in order to fund construction of a pipeline to divert water from the Gila River.
Weigel said other polls looking at other pipeline proposals like one on the Green River that would divert water to Denver, had similar results.
“In Wyoming, when a survey was conducted in 2011, we saw a similar dynamic – that people preferred alternatives to diversion,” she said. “In Colorado, we asked about broad diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range, and even those on the Front Range opposed it, but Denver Metro is rather unique, due to a creative campaign by Denver water to really emphasize conservation,” she said.
The poll is said to have a 4.38 percent margin of error.
A few Silver City area residents responded to a question of whether they support or oppose the project on the Sun-News Facebook page on Thursday. Most said they oppose such a proposal.
“Oppose it,” said Jeramiah Johnson. “Many endangered species exist along the Gila and a massive diversion project would be one more step in eliminating these species. My son and I have seen numerous forms of wildlife along the Gila and it’s one of the few places he can experience such diversity free (somewhat) from human interaction. Let the water flow.”
Anthony Teran also said he opposes it.
“One of a kind wildlife habitat for some species,” he said. “The river barely has enough water anyways.”
Sonnie Sussillo said she also strongly opposes such a plan.
“In addition to the environmental reasons with which I agree, the critical issues for everyone who pays taxes to the state and the county are that the money to fund the building and maintenance of any diversion project will come out of our pockets as taxes eventually. The federal money allocated for a diversion project is $128 million, but estimates to build the principal diversion proposals (pipeline to Deming) are upwards of $300 million just to build. There’s no federal money to maintain, so that will come out of our pockets. And if we divert water from the Gila so that the water-rights commitment to Arizona isn’t met, that will cost us another approximately $2 million a year. This doesn’t count the loss of income from tourists who now come for the environmental/recreational benefits. And finally, where will the water go when it gets to Deming under the current proposal? INTO THE GROUND. There is federal money available, $66 million, I think, for non-diversion projects, which will be of more direct benefit to our communities of Silver, Bayard, and Hurley in meeting immediate water needs. I urge everyone to do the math and look beyond the politics of grabbing federal money and the lack of factual and truthful answers from the IWS and our own county commissioners.”
Only Sam Pitts said he was for the project.
“I need a job,” he wrote. “I’m all for the project.”
Christine Steele can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5802.
The 9th annual Gila River Festival The Gila River is in Our Hands! –planned in and around Silver City, September 19 – 22, 2013 – will examine the impacts of climate change on the Gila River and the Gila region and how we can meet our future water needs and ensure that a free-flowing Gila River, one of the last in the Southwest, continues to exist for future generations.
One of the Southwest’s premier nature festivals, the Gila River Festival attracts an audience of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts eager to learn about and experience the Gila’s natural wonders. Festival attendees will enjoy a variety of expert-guided field trips in the Gila National Forest and along the Gila River, a keynote talk by author and environmentalist Kenneth Brower, presentation by Dr. Tom Swetnam of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona, panel discussions, workshops, kayaking, films about New Mexico rivers, Gala for the Gila and Silent Auction with live music by the Roadrunners, a downtown art walk and more.
Mary Burton Riseley and Ron Henry Dedicate their Pilgrimages to Saving the Gila River
Mary Burton Riseley and Ron Henry will be walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain in support of preserving the Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river. They are seeking sponsors to raise funds for Gila River protection efforts of the Gila Conservation Coalition. A special website has been set up for this project through which you can support their journeys www.razoo.com/story/El-Camino-Walk-For-The-Gila . All contributions are tax-deductible.
You can find out more about this famous pilgrimage route and why Ron and Mary are dedicating their pilgrimages to the Gila River on Earth Matters available 24/7 via podcast at Gila/Mimbres Community Radio.
We wish Mary and Ron well on their upcoming journeys and we are grateful for their dedication of their pilgrimages to Gila River protection efforts.
MARY BURTON RISELEY (video interview)
Mary Burton Riseley has lived within a few feet of the Gila River for the last 15 years. She has developed a deep connection to the river as well as the plants and animals that depend on it for their survival. Mary is a 4th generation New Mexican who has spent most of her life in this state. She is well known in the area as a person who cares deeply about others and her community. She has shown this by 40 years of work for peace and other causes, as well as by donating her land to a land trust.
Mary is concerned that the Gila River is in serious danger from powerful outside forces. Her sense of alarm was so great that Mary decided to do something big to help protect the Gila River. She is going to Spain to make a holy pilgrimage on the Camino Frances of the Camino de Santiago Compostela (or St. James’ Way) a walk of 490 miles, this coming September and October, and is dedicating her walk to the Gila River and the Gila Conservation Coalition, a partnership of Gila Resources Information Project, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity dedicated to protecting the free-flow of the wild Gila River.
The Camino or Way has been used since the 9th century to make pilgrimages to St. James’ shrine in Santiago de Compostela. According to her spiritual beliefs, she will offer those in prayer on behalf of saving the river as well as for protecting the people and animals that depend on it. Mary is asking people to sponsor her walking pilgrimage by donating to the El Camino Walk for the Gila. Those who donate will be put on a list that she will carry with her and read when she is praying at the stops. Mary hopes that friends and community members who support her walk will be generous in donating to the Gila Conservation Coalition’s Gila River protection efforts.
RON HENRY (video interview)
Ron Henry moved to the Silver City area 20 years ago and feels a deep connection to the Gila River and the mountain countryside that it meanders through. Ron and his children have enjoyed the beauty of the Gila River during hikes and picnics over the years. He is a native New Mexican whose grandparents came to New Mexico in a covered wagon. Ron shared that both his art and his spirituality are deeply connected to nature. He has been an artist all his life in addition to working at two careers (architecture and social work), and he often produces artworks that link nature and spirituality through nature’s symbols, such as the phoenix or the wolf.
A year ago, Ron walked 200 miles of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain as a spiritual journey and this year he plans to walk the Camino again for the Gila River, honoring his reverence for nature. In September, he hopes to trek 320 miles of the Camino’s paths, plus an additional 60 more miles to get to the Atlantic Ocean.
Ron is dedicating his walk on the Camino de Santiago to saving the Gila River because for him it is the lifeblood for the region’s ecosystems. He is extremely disturbed by proposals for a Gila River diversion project that will rip open the earth for miles to run a huge pipeline and drain water away from our region. Ron worries that the loss of the Gila’s nourishing river water will overwhelm the natural balance here and bring great harm to our delicate ecosystem. He hopes that he can find enough sponsors of his walk to make a major contribution to the Gila Conservation Coalition to help defray their many expenses in promoting solutions that conserve and better utilize our water resources instead of a diversion project.
The Gila Conservation Coalition is pleased to announce that we are seeking artists to contribute to a collection of songs about the Gila River. We are producing this compact disk both to raise funds to help fight threats to the Gila and its watershed, such as the current AWSA diversion proposal, and to capture the spirit of this community which loves the Gila River and Gila Wilderness so fiercely.
The GCC is seeking songs of any genre which celebrate the Gila River and the fight to keep wild rivers free from development and diversion. Each song should reflect the beauty and importance of the Gila River and/or why we should save wild rivers through the lyrics or the theme. All proceeds will benefit the GCC’s work to save the Gila River.
Selection of songs and production of the CD will be managed by a recently formed production committee including David Furnas (Seedboat Studios), Kyle Johnson (Gila-Mimbres Community Radio), Allyson Siwik (Gila Resource Information Project), Donna Stevens (Upper Gila Watershed Alliance) and Joanie Connors (WNMU). Seedboat Studios has generously agreed to provide the mastering work for the collection.
We are asking artists to first send us an email at email@example.com describing their song concept and interest in contributing to the CD by Monday September 30, 2013.
To be included on the Gila River CD, artists will need to provide unmastered stereo recordings on CDs via a common digital audio workstation, such as ProTools, Cubase, or Garage Band. All songs must be original compositions and you must have all rights to use the song and the musicians on the recording. These recordings will be due by Friday, November 1, 2013 at 4pm at address below:
Save the Gila CD
c/o Gila Resources Information Project
305A North Cooper St
Silver City, NM 88061
For this year’s Gila River Festival, we’ve added a silent auction to the festivities to benefit the Gila Conservation Coalition in its continuing efforts to keep the last wild river in New Mexico, the Gila River, free flowing and wild.
As a non-profit organization, the Gila Conservation Coalition needs strong local support from generous people like you who understand the critical importance of the Gila River in sustaining the high quality of life we enjoy here in southwest New Mexico.
Please consider donating your product or service to the silent auction running throughout the Gila River Festival with final bidding Saturday evening at the Gala for the Gila. We are asking for new products or services valued at $25 or more. You may assign a minimum bid for your donation and all donations are tax-deductible.
Please fill out the auction donation form and drop off the item you would like to donate to the Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP)/Gila Conservation Coalition office anytime between 9am and 3pm Monday through Friday. The address and contact information for GRIP/GCC are below. Alternatively, you may mail or email a description of the service you would like to donate to firstname.lastname@example.org. Upon receiving your donation, we will give you a receipt that can be used for tax purposes.
Gila Resources Information Project/Gila Conservation Coalition
305A N. Cooper Street, Silver City, NM 88061 575.538.8078
Thank you for your generosity and support to keep the Gila River wild and free!
Rare Northern Mexican Gartersnake Found Along the Gila River
|Northern Mexican Gartersnake -Doug Hotle/Abq BioPark|
Scientists are thrilled with the recent discovery of the Northern Mexican Gartersnake in New Mexico. Thought to have been extirpated from New Mexico, biologists from the Albuquerque BioPark found three of the snakes along the Gila River. The snake was once found throughout Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and northern Mexico, but its range has been reduced by more than 90% from water diversions, drought, overgrazing and wildfires. Non-native species also threaten young snakes. The snake is listed as state endangered and is a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act. Soon you’ll be able to see one of the snakes at the Reptile House at Albuquerque BioPark.
Finding of Rare Gartersnake underscores need to protect New Mexico’s Gila River by National Geographic Society’s Sandra Postel