Las Cruces – The Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC) has asked New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez to release $199,000 awarded to SWEC for construction of a wetland restoration project under development along the Rio Grande in Do a Ana County.
The money was awarded in 2010 for SWEC's La Mancha Wetland Project, as one of nine projects funded statewide under the River Ecological Restoration Initiative (RERI). SWEC has been unable to spend the money because it has yet to receive a contract from the NM Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) giving SWEC the authority to spend the money. The contract is reportedly being withheld at the Governor's instructions for review and possible reallocation of the funding.
In a letter dated March 1, SWEC Executive Director Kevin Bixby said it would be "shortsighted" to pull the plug on a project like La Mancha that creates jobs, restores habitat, benefits the community and is so close to completion. "We are concerned that the Governor may not be aware of how far along this project is, and how much community support it has," said Bixby.
More than $50,000 in state and other funding has already been spent on the La Mancha project. "Losing funding now would not only would leave La Mancha unfinished, it would be a waste of all the time, energy and money already invested in the project."
The goal of the La Mancha Project is to restore wetland habitat along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. Once plentiful, most of these habitats have been eliminated, contributing to the disappearance of many native fish.
"Wetlands are extremely important habitats," said Bixby. "Although they comprise less than one percent of New Mexico, they provide habitat for more than half of all the State's wildlife species. Wetlands also provide important ecosystem services that benefit people, such as water purification and flood moderation."
SWEC began planning and fundraising for the La Mancha Wetland Project in 2006. Project partners include NMSU's Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Ecology, NMSU's Scientifically Connected Communities, the International Boundary and Water Commission, and local schools and teachers. SWEC has taken more than 1000 local K-12 students to the site on field trips, with funding support from Dona Ana County and the United Way of Southern NM.
"This project is as shovel ready as they come," said Bixby. "We have put the construction job out for bid, and have a contractor standing by, waiting for us to give the green light. All we need to finish this project is a contract from Santa Fe."
Time is of the essence. As soon as irrigation releases from Caballo Reservoir begin, and the river comes up, the groundwater table at the site will rise, forcing a delay in construction until the Fall.
SWEC is a Las Cruces-based nonprofit conservation organization established in 1991 that works to protect and restore native wildlife and their habitats in the southwestern borderlands.