ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — NM can’t afford this pricey boondoggle
JOHN FLECK’S in-depth reporting reveals the Interstate Stream Commission’s patterns of obfuscation, intentional omission and advocacy science regarding the damming and diversion proposed for the Gila River. An ISC decision to proceed with a dam/diversion project could mean a billion-dollar boondoggle for New Mexico taxpayers and skyrocketing water bills for customers in southwestern New Mexico.
The Interstate Stream Commission has:
• Repeatedly mischaracterized the water as “New Mexico’s water” when New Mexico only has the right to buy expensive water to trade with Arizona tribes under the Arizona Water Settlement Act. New Mexico will pay the Bureau of Reclamation in advance $146 for every acre-foot of Gila River water diverted. The bureau will then deliver an equal amount of Colorado River replacement water in advance to Arizona tribes.
• Understated and buried the cost of the project. Bureau of Reclamation’s July 2014 report shows the project will cost more than $1 billion for construction and operation. The ISC has never publicly addressed either this cost or the fact that the project is totally unaffordable. Water bills in Deming would have to increase more than tenfold even if the Legislature kicked in $250 million of state taxpayer funds for construction.
• Failed to show any real need for the water.
• Failed to address the amount of water the project would produce for people.
• Calculated the amount of water that New Mexico could divert but has kept that calculation secret. The actual amount is lower than the ISC’s misleading description. There is no water in many years and often none in consecutive years.
• Failed to reveal that more than 70 percent of the irrigated pasture along the Gila River proposed for additional irrigation with diverted water is owned by Freeport McMoRan, one of the largest gold and copper mining corporations in the world. The ISC is proposing that New Mexico taxpayers and southwestern New Mexico municipal water customers pay for more water for the lands of this huge international corporation.
• Denied the environmental destruction of its proposed damming and diversion of the wild Gila River and the impacts on habitat and species.
Thank you, John Fleck, for exposing the billion-dollar boondoggle southwest New Mexico does not need and can’t afford.
Stream Commission is hiding something
THE INTERSTATE Stream Commission’s withholding of crucial information about the amount of water available for a Gila River diversion erodes its credibility. Why is the ISC hiding information?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the majority of ISC appointees were selected by a previous administration, but they have clearly failed to meet the spirit, if not the standard, of open government. Gov. (Susana) Martinez promised a transparent administration, but the ISC let us all down.
We now know the diversion would cost more than ($1 billion) to construct and operate. Divertible water is highly questionable, and storage reservoirs would suffer from tremendous evaporation and seepage.
But smarter infrastructure and water reuse alternatives exist. With water so critical to the people, wildlife and recreation economy of southwest New Mexico, the rationale for spending upward of $1 billion on a diversion is important. All the relevant information should be publicly available.
Use common sense on NM water projects
JOHN FLECK’S Sept. 22 article about Open Meetings Act violations at the Interstate Stream Commission regarding a Gila River diversion (“Stream Commission accused of open meetings violation”) leaves out some crucial facts.
Former ISC Director Norm Gaume has more criticisms of the agency than their secretive process. A retired engineer, Gaume has criticized a Gila diversion as being “fatally flawed,” meaning that no matter how much money is thrown at this project – and the construction estimates are over a billion dollars now – it will never work.
After water storage reservoirs’ evaporation and seepage are taken into account, the amount of available water will be very small on average and zero in many years.
The Arizona Water Settlements Act will provide less than 10 percent of the money needed to build a diversion. On the other hand, the act wisely makes available more than $90 million to implement projects to meet long-term water demands in southwestern New Mexico.
One proposed project is a Grant County regional water system to fulfill the needs of 26,000 residents. Other projects would fund responsible use of existing water through agricultural and municipal conservation and effluent reuse.
All of these common-sense projects can be completed with the non-reimbursable federal funds.
Given the facts, why would our Interstate Stream Commission want to build an ecologically harmful diversion that provides little in the way of actual water yield and puts New Mexicans on the hook for funding a billion dollar project that won’t meet water needs?
Prove the benefits of this dam or drop it
SINCE THE U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was authorized in 1902, it has conducted dam and irrigation project feasibility studies on practically every river in the western USA that had enough water flow to merit such studies. Therefore, it is very probable that a feasibility study for a dam project on the upper Gila River was done by the USBR. They certainly did several on the central and lower Gila in Arizona (part of the Central Arizona Project). It is also probable that the study did not indicate such a project was beneficially feasible considering that the USBR went to Congress with every dam project that could be shown beneficial – often through combinations of irrigation, recreation and flood control benefits.
In New Mexico, one of the last of those projects is Brantley Dam, finished in 1987, and now almost empty – also not located to prevent any of the recent flooding in Carlsbad. Yes, times change, but the USBR had a well-developed system for evaluating the potential of a dam project paying off and getting congressional approval. Sometimes it took decades – the Animas-LaPlata Project was authorized in 1968 and completed in 2011, for example.
The point is, has anyone looked in the USBR files to see if any such feasibility studies were done and what their conclusions were? This would be a database publicly available and a good place to start.
Beyond that, the comment by a state official that (former ISC Director Norm) Gaume did not “properly account for things like seepage from the reservoir site and evaporation” is astounding in that both of those factors reduce the available amount of water stored in the reservoir with very little benefits to downstream users – evaporation is a complete loss of water for downstream use and seepage only is a benefit during irrigation system.
So, accounting for those things would result in making the project less beneficial and less feasible – basic hydrology. By the way, those things were always accounted for in the USBR feasibility studies and should have been accounted for in the state database.
Unfortunately, it looks like the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is poised to follow the lead of several other state agencies and spend large amounts of our tax dollars for little return – think about the Spaceport and the Rail Runner. Provide the data and prove the benefit or back off and save us all millions of dollars.
CHRISTOPHER M. TIMM
Protect the diversity of the Gila River
“LET IT BE” says all there needs to be said about the Gila River system! A much-loved Beatles’ song is as good a motto as any for this magical irreplaceable ecosystem. And yes, I have read all the zeros attached to the drooling amount of money some would pile into the next temporary job site damming up and erasing a diversity so special that not one human could possibly duplicate it!
The option is to apply all those dollars to restoring the watersheds feeding and nourishing this special living place that were destroyed by wildfire, replanting trees, recovering riverbanks, supporting environmental education field trips for all age groups, providing grants for educational films, and supporting positive dynamics in the communities both human and wild that live there.
Excellent research and knowledge about the American West and Water is found in “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner. The introduction’s brief description of past water control follies made along the Gila River that resulted in sending toxic levels of salt to Mexico – “we were giving the farmers slow liquid death to pour over their fields” – is a true result of short-sighted intervention in naturally healthy systems. A legal dispute followed. Agriculture and the production of food does not do well at all with salt-laden water.
Let it be!