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Thirsty for Answers

Lots of questions but no answers on water rights
and the Gila River.


In this month's column I'd like to take the opportunity to ask some questions for a change, rather than suggest answers, which I definitely don't have! It all concerns the water-rights issue and the Gila River and the proposals on how to keep water that is justifiably southern New Mexico's, versus Arizona's claim to it.

From what I recently read in one of our local newspapers, there has developed a severe division amongst those entities entrusted with dealing with the problem regarding use of both water and money allocated to our area though the Arizona Water Settlement Act.

I quote from an article written in the Daily Press on March 28, 2007: "The 18 entities that are part of the four-county region of Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron resolved to acquire and put to beneficial use as much of the 14,000 acre-feet of water as it is physically, ecologically, financially and legally practical to develop waters of the Gila Basin, and to acquire and put to use as much as $66 million available for water-related projects; and to acquire and put to use as much of the $62 million available for a diversion of water of the Gila Basin."

Then I read that Governor Richardson vetoed $945,000 funded to better understand the ecology of the river.

I have heard through the grapevine that two or more environmental entities opposed certain ideas for usage of the water allocation, namely a diversion or diversion projects. I've heard that they urged the governor to veto the money, thus causing a split in the groups involved and also denying local counties an infusion of nearly a million dollars.

This veto and the urging of those entities has generated much conversation locally as to just what the heck is the problem? Why are the water-rights entities at a current standstill and standoff when so much is at stake?

Dutch Salmon, current game and fish commissioner for our area and head of the Gila Conservation Coalition (GCC), has said he wants a "full range of studies, not just diversion." What does the full range of studies entail, and what does his group suggest on how best to utilize the water, and where would it come from if not the river?

On the other hand, the Interstate Stream Commission seems to be leaning towards diverting water from the Gila. What does that mean?

It is my understanding that there is a consensus among all environmental entities that the direct damming of the river would be no good since it is a "free-ranging" flow of water. That sounds good to me too. But is there indeed such a consensus?

This makes me ask: Other than expense, what's wrong with diverting water from the Gila, via pumps, to a side dam built on a tributary, or even a series of small dams on various tributaries? Wouldn't that idea still leave the river itself free-flowing and pristine just as it is now?

It seems that one only has to look at Bill Evans Lake to see that the idea has worked in the past and is still working quite admirably. This diversion-created lake provides a great fishery for the Game and Fish Department and clean recreation for area residents.

So why not more of the same? Couldn't the water be pumped into diversion dams only when the river is running above normal flows? I really don't understand the objections to this idea. Maybe somebody out there can enlighten me.

And what do the governor and the game and fish department want to see done with the water-rights allocation? Does each of them have ideas on the subject?

Why are the so-called "environmental groups" opposed to diversion and consumption and what do they have to offer as alternative solutions?

Then there's the legal aspect of the Arizona Water Settlements Act. Just what can New Mexico do or not do? After all, until that issue is settled first, every bit of water goes down the drain, so to speak.

Are these environmental groups stalling, as some have implied, until it is too late for New Mexico to get its allocation? And just who are these groups anyway? And what is the 'better plan" alluded to by Salmon and the GCC?

There are a passel of unanswered questions and no concrete answers available from anyone, just a whole lot of nebulous arguing. I agree with one person who stated, "The groups should look at how best to satisfy everyone's water needs in the area"—whatever that best course may be. Special interests should be pushed to the slow currents.

So then, I invite all of those "informed" individuals and groups to join the fray and answer all of these questions one by one until the rest of us are as educated and illuminated as the "groups" involved are.

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you all.


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively for Desert Exposure.



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