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.