Santa Fe, NM – Senator Howie Morales (D-28-Catron, Grant & Socorro), Chair of the interim Economic and Rural Development Committee, announced his co-sponsorship today of two bills pre-filed by Senator Peter Wirth (D-25-Santa Fe), SB 89 and SB 90. The bills would protect taxpayers from a costly Gila River Diversion project while prioritizing conservation alternatives to secure Southwest New Mexico’s water supply.
Proposed Gila River diversion projects could cost more than $400 million, about half coming from federal funds and leaving New Mexico taxpayers responsible for the balance. The 2014 legislative session is the last opportunity for the Legislature to weigh in before the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), a nine member body appointed by the governor, makes a final decision on behalf of the state.
“In my corner of the Land of Enchantment, the Gila River is the state’s last major free-flowing river. It draws in visitors and residents that support our local economy,” said Sen. Morales. “If we divert and transfer a significant amount of Gila water to other parts of the state for urban development, the economic and ecologic health of my district would be jeopardized now and in the future.”
According to Morales, $82 million in non-reimbursable federal funding available under the Arizona Water Settlements Act can secure more than 20,000 acre-feet of water through cost-effective measures, such as municipal conservation, agricultural conservation, watershed restoration, effluent reuse, and sustainable groundwater programs. This water can meet the needs of southwestern New Mexico far into the future.
“I stand with Senator Wirth in urging the New Mexico ISC and my fellow legislators to chart a different course for addressing New Mexico’s water supply issues,” continued Morales. “The fiscally responsible approach is to use the available federal subsidy to fund cheaper alternatives that can immediately meet the water needs of communities throughout southwest New Mexico.”
The legislation will ensure that the state budget will not be unduly impacted by a large scale diversion on the Gila River and allow for funding of southwestern New Mexico’s water supply through cost-effective alternatives to a diversion project.