By Algernon D’Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News | June 19, 2020
ALBUQUERQUE — A long-running, controversial proposal for a diversion project on the Gila River was effectively ended Thursday by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.
The nine-member board of commissioners voted, 7-2, to reject further funding for an environmental impact statement required for the project to move forward under the federal Arizona Water Settlements Act.
In 2014, the ISC voted to pursue a diversion project, which was eligible for additional funding under the AWSA. A quasi-governmental body, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, was subsequently founded to manage the project.
Over the ensuing years, the CAP Entity struggled to finalize a project to harvest 14,000 acre-feet of water entitled under the law and complete environmental reviews to meet a deadline for U.S. Interior Department approval. The project, and the process, also faced criticism or outright opposition from some conservationists and lawmakers.
The CAP Entity spent an estimated $16 million pursuing the diversion project, and the project lost out on $56 million in federal money for construction when it was denied a deadline extension.
The CAP Entity, whose 15 members span Luna, Grant, Hidalgo and Catron counties along with an ISC representative, may still be involved in developing water projects with the $70 million in remaining federal funds.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised the ISC for the vote Thursday, calling the diversion “an expensive and ill-devised effort that was a disservice to the resource-management needs of the area and to New Mexicans.”
The Gila Conservation Coalition, which had opposed the project, issued a statement recommending the $70 million be spent on a range of water line, well maintenance or replacements, water treatment systems, effluent reuse projects and completion of the Grant County Regional Water Supply project.
“This is a significant good governance issue and would have been rightly seen as ‘throwing good money after bad,'” New Mexico Wild Executive Director Mark Allison said in a statement. “The NM CAP Entity has never been able to demonstrate a project that would be technically or financially viable. Even at this late stage, essential questions remained unanswered. What limited information there is suggests that the most recent proposal intended to benefit only a handful of property owners for a product that they couldn’t afford.”
Darr Shannon, the CAP Entity chairperson, did not immediately respond to a query from the Las Cruces Sun-News.
This article originally appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News.