By Allyson Siwik, Donna Stevens, and Todd Schulke
Silver City Daily Press | November 30, 2020
Allocation of $80 million from the New Mexico Unit Fund to water projects in southwest New Mexico is a technically complex and high-stakes process that will require an efficient, effective and representative effort to bring our region together to decide how best to achieve water supply resilience.
As the Daily Press reported last Tuesday, the N.M. CAP Entity would like to control this process in an attempt to maintain its relevance and have influence over Arizona Water Settlements Act, or AWSA, funding. We recently pointed out to the N.M. CAP Entity director the many reasons why we believe the group is not up to this critically important challenge, and why we believe our region needs a new advisory group to lead the process.
For more than 15 years, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, or ISC, and members of the N.M. CAP Entity — most recently with the CAP Entity in the lead — have piloted the Gila diversion planning process under the AWSA. They squandered $15 million of the N.M. Unit Fund, and another $2 million in state taxpayer dollars on diversion planning with nothing to show for it.
In June, the ISC voted to defund the environmental compliance process under the National Environmental Policy Act because the project was not economically viable — costs exceeded benefits, and project water was unaffordable. The ISC directed staff to determine how to spend the N.M. Unit Fund on non-diversion water projects instead. Since then, the N.M. CAP Entity has continued its feckless course despite the ISC’s June decision. The group’s discussions about amending its joint powers agreement show it is still trying to build the Gila diversion. The group wants to control the money, keeping most of it for the diversion.
The Entity’s latest attempt to keep the diversion alive includes requesting another $25,500 from the N.M. Unit for an engineering report “to obtain future funding for continuation of the project and implementation of any recommended improvements.” This ignores the ISC’s decision to end all engineering work on the diversion. And in a bizarre twist, following their recent failures, the N.M. CAP Entity now wants to become a regional water authority, “to get access to a huge amount of money to develop water.”
The stakes are high for southwest New Mexico’s water future. We face long-term drought and climate change, deteriorating water infrastructure, and the need to conserve precious water supplies. Given the region’s $137 million water needs, based on FY22-26 infrastructure and capital improvement plan lists, we can’t afford to squander the $80 million in the N.M. Unit Fund on more failed Gila diversion planning. The N.M. CAP Entity’s lack of technical expertise, lack of representation, clear bias toward agricultural interests, climate change denial and divisive rhetoric show the N.M. CAP Entity is clearly not the right group to move things forward.
Enough is enough. It’s time to create a new advisory group that can legitimately and effectively assist the Interstate Stream Commission with allocating the N.M. Unit Fund by facilitating a process that brings all stakeholders together to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people with the available AWSA funds.
Allyson Siwik is the executive director of the Gila Conservation Coalition. Donna Stevens is the executive director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance. Todd Schulke is the co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity.
This guest column originally appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.