Santa Fe, NM – Senator Peter Wirth (D-25-Santa Fe), Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee, introduced two bills today that will guide how the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) can expend funds under the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004. Senate Bill 90 specifically requires beneficiaries to secure and guarantee all funding necessary to construct a large-scale diversion and pipeline on the Gila River before the ISC can notify the Secretary of the Interior of its intent to begin construction. Senate Bill 89 will require the ISC to expend $82 million in federal AWSA funding on water supply projects like water conservation, watershed improvement and new infrastructure to help meet water supply demands in the southwest water planning region.
The Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004 authorized $66 million for community water projects to meet local water needs and an incentive of $34M – $62M more if the ISC decides to divert the Gila River. With inflation the initial $66 million received in 2004 has grown to nearly $100 million. Proposed Gila River diversion projects could cost more than $300 million, leaving taxpayers responsible for the balance – $200 million or more. The 2014 legislative session is the last opportunity for the legislature to weigh in before the ISC, a nine member body appointed by the governor, makes a final decision on behalf of the state.
“The state already has huge water infrastructure needs and monetary obligations under existing water settlements,” said Sen. Wirth. “Here is a chance to focus these federal dollars in the Gila on water conservation, efficiency improvements and watershed restoration projects without any cost to state taxpayers. Not only is this a great roadmap for addressing New Mexico’s water supply issues in the rest of the state, it does not have us embarking on costly engineering projects that move relatively small amounts of water.”
Earlier this week more than 300 business leaders from around the state sent a letter to the governor asking her to reject expensive and unpopular water diversion projects. “Our business community understands that the economic vitality of this state depends on the wise use of our water resources,” added Sen. Wirth. “In this case, we can continue to secure the economic benefits arising from tourism and outdoor recreation along New Mexico’s last free-flowing river while funding cost-effective solutions to meet our future demands for water.”
The business letter opposing the Gila Diversion will be presented at the ISC’s monthly meeting on January 21. The commissioners are charged with the ultimate decision on how the state will spend its federal water settlement’s windfall.
Sen. Wirth’s legislation will ensure that the state budget will not be unduly impacted by a large scale diversion on the Gila River. According to Wirth, for approximately one third of the estimated cost of a Gila diversion, southwest counties could implement municipal conservation, agricultural conservation, watershed restoration, effluent reuse, and sustainable groundwater programs that could secure thousands of acre feet per year for irrigation, drinking water and economic development.