$91 Million in NM Unit Fund Key to Building Resilient Water Supplies for Southwest New Mexico
After 16 years of effort by the Gila Conservation Coalition, its partners and many supporters here locally and from around the state, the final nail in the coffin for the Gila River diversion was hammered into place during the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 200, sponsored by Representative Matthew McQueen, Representative Nathan Small, Senate Pro Tem Senator Mimi Stewart, and Senator Siah Correa Hemphill, was signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The bill prohibits any spending on a Gila River diversion and fast tracks New Mexico Unit Funding to local water projects in southwest New Mexico.
After wasting $15 million on a failed diversion project, it’s a relief to finally be able to move forward with funding priority water projects in Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron counties.
The legislation removed the NM CAP Entity from a consultative role in deciding how to spend millions of dollars of Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) funding sitting in the NM Unit Fund. The Water Trust Board was named the successor to the Southwest New Mexico Water Study Group, and it will now advise the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) on water projects for funding. The ISC retains authority over all NM Unit Fund expenditures.
The Governor appointed Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero to the Water Trust Board and the HB200 Subcommittee to assist with producing project recommendations for the ISC, including development of the project application process. During the recent public participation period, the Gila Conservation Coalition provided the Water Trust Board and state legislators with input on how to prioritize projects to protect the Gila River from any future diversion projects and ensure equity in allocation of water projects funding from the NM Unit Fund.
The AWSA funding comes not a moment too soon as the latest scientific predictions of climate impacts to the state’s water supplies are “overwhelmingly negative.” By mid-century, temperatures are estimated to rise by 5 – 7 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to decreased and earlier snowmelt runoff, increased aridity with associated decreased runoff and recharge, increased wildfire risk, vegetation changes, erosion, and degraded surface water quality.
As part of the 50-year water planning process, the Gila Conservation Coalition have provided public input to the ISC on how to improve water supply resilience for public water supplies, the mining sector, and watersheds and habitat for the Gila and Mimbres basins. Securing instream flows for the Gila River is a priority as river drying will get worse with predicted stream flow reductions due to climate change. The Grant County Regional Water Supply Project is critical to creating secure water supplies for Silver City and the Mining District.
As we figure out how to adapt to the impacts of a hotter, drier climate, we have a tremendous opportunity to secure resilient water supplies for everyone in southwest New Mexico with the $91.2 million available in the NM Unit Fund. GCC will continue to stay on top of water planning efforts to build water supply resilience for our communities, rivers and watersheds.
The Gila Conservation Coalition is a partnership of three organizations – Gila Resources Information Project, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity – that work together to protect the free flow of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and wilderness characteristics of the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas