Progress on the Gila River, One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2008
Eight months after "Most Endangered River" listing, support is growing for smarter water supply alternativesDecember 11th, 2008
Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23
Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition, 575-538-8078
Todd Schulke, Center for Biological Diversity, 575-574-5962
Washington, DC — Eight months after American Rivers named the Gila River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ for 2008, momentum is growing for smarter, cost-effective water management solutions for the Gila River, rather than a costly and destructive water diversion scheme.
Unfortunately, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) continues to promote a large-scale diversion project whose cost far exceeds the amount of resources made available by Congress. Taking this water from the Gila River and its tributary the San Francisco would have a detrimental effect on riparian vegetation, endangered species, fish, wildlife and recreation.
But the good news is that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson released a policy statement on the Gila River that reinforces the need to look at all water supply/demand management alternatives and reiterates the need for cost-effective solutions.
And in another positive development, the Bureau of Reclamation has developed a planning framework for a range of alternatives, emphasizing cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis.
Implementation of the Bureau of Reclamation planning framework will ensure that the full range of studies is conducted to determine how southwestern New Mexico can best satisfy its future water demand in a cost-effective manner.
With a global financial crisis burdening governments, communities, businesses and individuals, we need to continue to call for cost-effective measures to meet our future water needs and to protect the ecology of the Gila River.
“The water problems facing southwestern New Mexico can be solved today with solutions far less draconian than this ill-conceived diversion project,” said Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition. “To dump hundreds of million dollars in debt on our grandchildren for a project that isn’t necessary is unconscionable.”
“What’s happening on the Gila isn’t happening in a vacuum. The decision the ISC makes will eventually touch every river in the Southwest,” added Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Decision makers in the agency should be under no illusions of anonymity: the eyes of America are focused on them. We hope they make the right decision.”
Estimates show that cities around the Gila, like Silver City, New Mexico could produce 30 to 45 percent reductions in demand through reasonable water conservation measures, and switching to drip irrigation would save area farmers 30 to 50 percent of current water use. If, at some point, more water is needed, a 2005 study demonstrates that the region’s future water needs can be met sixteen times more cheaply by developing ample groundwater reserves from a regional aquifer that is recharged annually by rain and snowfall, than the Gila diversion.
Once one of the longest desert rivers in the world at 650 miles, the Gila River is New Mexico’s last free-flowing river. The Gila is home to numerous threatened and endangered species, and serves as a vital stopover for more than 250 species of migratory birds. As a result, anglers, bird watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts flock to the region making the river an economic hub, as well as a source for cultural and natural history. The industrial development required for this project would be a huge intrusion on what is now a pastoral valley that has remained largely unchanged for the past century.