With the federal deadline now only months away, the NM CAP Entity (NMCAPE) is scrambling to get a NEPA Record of Decision for its Gila diversion project, rather than wake up to the reality that they have no viable project after 15 years of wasted time and $15 million of wasted spending.
Obtained through the Inspection of Public Records Act, the Preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the NM Unit predicts the NMCAPE’s “construction costs associated with the Proposed Action would reach a total of $69,690,054 while operations and maintenance costs would reach $1,872,226 annually.” The costs to build the project are greater than the $50 million earmarked for construction funds under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA), and the annual operations and maintenance cost is beyond the reach of the small group of farmers irrigating low value pasture.
While additional time and over $3 million more in AWSA funds budgeted by the Interstate Stream Commission for the Gila diversion will be wasted, the priority water needs of the 60,000 people of southwest New Mexico are being ignored. Most importantly, the NMCAPE is withholding $12 million to fully fund the Grant County Regional Water Supply Project that will provide water to low-income communities in the Mining District. The Grant County Water Commission is being forced to obtain federal loans to fund the remainder of the project, raising water bills by $20 per month.
In her October 2018 plan for managing and conserving the state’s water, Governor-Elect Michelle Lujan Grisham states that as governor she will “end work on the Gila River Diversion Project,” given that “there is little to show for the millions of dollars spent on staff, lawyers and studies” with only one year left to secure approval of the project under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA). She goes on to say “we need to use the [AWSA] settlement money more efficiently on other projects that could help more of southwestern New Mexico.”
The time is now to stop the hemorrhaging of public funds for this unfair diversion project. The equitable solution is to direct AWSA funding to priority community water projects that will provide a secure water supply for everyone in southwest New Mexico.