FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 14, 2014
Molly Mugglestone, Co-Director, Protect the Flows, 970-275-8909
Concern for Recreation & Tourism Economy Sparks Letter to Governor
NM business leaders see economic decline coming from controversial Gila River diversion under assessment
Albuquerque, NM – More than 300 New Mexico businesses, including the statewide NM Green Chamber, Las Cruces Green Chamber and Southwest NM Green chamber, sent a letter to Governor Susana Martinez today asking her to reject expensive and unpopular water diversion projects as she decides on best approaches to secure Southwestern New Mexico’s future water supply, and to strongly consider cost effective, common sense alternatives. The letter comes as the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) weighs options to divert water from the Gila River, a project permitted by the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) of 2004. ISC staff is expected to present preliminary results of analyses of Gila River diversion alternatives at a meeting in Santa Fe next week in preparation for the legislative session.
“The Gila is New Mexico’s last free-flowing river. The wildlife and fisheries that are supported by the river are coveted by sportsmen throughout the U.S.,” said Kurt Albershardt, owner of the Murray Hotel in Silver City. “The Gila Wilderness, kept vibrant by a healthy Gila River flowing through it, beckons hikers, birders, hunters and anglers and helps to support a $1.6 billion outdoor recreation economy based on the Colorado River’s four main tributaries in New Mexico. Diverting water from the Gila would harm wildlife, limit recreation opportunities and almost certainly wither an important part of our local economy.”
According to a 2012 report commissioned by business coalition Protect the Flows (which includes more than 200 New Mexico owned businesses), the Colorado River and its tributaries support a $26 billion river-related economy across six states, drawing revenue from more than 5 million adults who use the Colorado River system for recreational activities each year. From this, New Mexico enjoys $1.2 billion in direct spending on river recreation and fills 17,000 jobs. Seemingly simple outdoor activities like picnicking, trail activities, wildlife watching, camping, fishing, water sports, bicycling, snow sports, and hunting are major economic drivers that pour millions of dollars into New Mexico’s local businesses and state treasury. Southern New Mexico visitor spending is growing faster than in other parts of the state according to 2011 figures, with southwestern counties including Grant County generating from $34 to $61 million each. A significant portion of this bounty disappears should the Gila River, a major tributary of the Colorado, no longer flow free and attract recreation and tourism.
“A Gila River diversion is an incredibly costly enterprise, and for an exorbitant price tag of well over $300 million we will get only a short-term fix,” said Duane Mosley, Market Manager for the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market. “After utilizing the money allotted for the project by AWSA, New Mexico taxpayers and water users are still stuck with a bill of approximately 200 million dollars. Adding in the annual operation and maintenance costs of a diversion will cost taxpayers another several million dollars per year.
A poll of New Mexico voters conducted by Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies in 2013 found that a majority of New Mexicans favor water conservation measures, with 85% believing that using water wisely — by continuing to conserve water, using new technology such as water-saving irrigation systems for farmers and ranchers to help reduce wasted water, replacing outdated water infrastructure, and increasing recycling of water – is preferable to diverting more water from New Mexico’s rivers to communities where more people live.
These public preferences are consistent with the December 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, co-authored by the Bureau of Reclamation, the State of New Mexico and the other basin states, which concluded that conservation and water re-use are the cheapest and easiest solutions to implement as a means to balancing supply and demand on the river and its tributaries.
The poll also showed the great concern New Mexico voters have about water issues, specifically about the impact a Gila River diversion would have on wildlife and the health of the river. Overwhelmingly, 90% of New Mexicans feel that rivers are critical to their quality of life, 86% see rivers as critical to New Mexico’s outdoor recreation opportunities, and 85% feel that rivers are critical to the state’s economy.
“In the past 50 years, there have been three failed attempts to dam and divert the Gila, each attempt repelled by staunch opposition,” said Christie Baca, RDH at Divine Dental of Santa Fe. “Now we face yet another threat, and the reasons for previous resistance remain. We urge Governor Martinez and the ISC to ask themselves: Why impair a wild and free river that supports abundant wildlife and attracts outdoor recreationists spending time and money in New Mexico, when we can develop effective and cheaper non-diversion alternatives that would keep our Gila River flowing free?”
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