Sportsmen Groups Oppose Gila River Diversion

Credit NMFO
  On Friday November 15, eleven sportsmen groups representing 20,000 New Mexicans will send a letter to Governor Susana Martinez asking her to oppose the controversial Gila River diversion project in favor of long-term solutions that protect rivers.  Protected and flowing rivers are essential for New Mexico’s world-class elk habitat and gold medal fisheries, which support a $2.89 billion river-related recreation economy. "The Gila region is truly unique, in large part due to the presence of this amazing, living river,” said Jeff Arterburn, President, Gila/Rio Grande Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “While there are many places across the country where anglers can fish for rainbow and brown trout, this is it for our beautiful native Gila trout, and we feel it is our responsibility, to our families and those visitors who are drawn to this special place, to protect and preserve the life of this river." This collaborative outreach from multiple sportsmen groups is rare, but it serves to illustrate the widespread support for a flowing and un-diverted Gila River, favored by a majority of New Mexicans. The groups -- which include the NM Wildlife Federation, Albuquerque Wildlife Federation, and numerous Trout Unlimited chapters in the state –are sending the letter to the Governor on Friday morning, coinciding with an announcement and distribution of the letter at the Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting held at the state capitol in Santa Fe.  At the meeting, Ryan Flynn, Secretary-Designate at the Department of Environment will be speaking on the state’s Initiative on River Restoration, a program championed by the Governor.  “I understand the interim committee will be discussing the Governor’s River Stewards Initiative on Thursday," said David Soules of Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen. "We are encouraged by her ambitious plan to protect river health in New Mexico and hope that this translates into protecting the Gila from a large scale diversion that would ultimately threaten river health and the outdoor recreation opportunities enjoyed by thousands of New Mexico sportsmen.”  In addition to sportsmen concerns, the negative impacts of a diversion project on the Gila River are underscored by a recent polling of New Mexico voters revealing that New Mexicans are gravely concerned about the health of rivers, believe that rivers are critical to quality of life, and reject the concept of river diversions in favor of non-diversion.  More specifically, a large majority of NM voters oppose the controversial Gila River diversion project in favor of long-term solutions that protect rivers.   The poll, conducted by Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies in July 2013, illuminated six big picture findings: 1.    New Mexico voters are very concerned about water issues.  2.    New Mexicans value their rivers as critical to their quality of life, outdoor recreation opportunities, and the state’s economy. 3.    Voters decisively reject the concept and the specifics of a river diversion project. 4.    The more New Mexico voters hear, the less they like the Gila River project5.    Water supply options other than diversion, such as water-saving irrigation systems for farmers and ranchers, replacing outdated water infrastructure, and building desalinization plants, are greeted with much more enthusiasm.  6.    The huge price tag for a pipeline is a major concern with only 30% willing to pay for the diversion project.   “In times of drought the only source of water for animals in the area is the Gila River, the golden thread of the Gila Wilderness.  Any river diversion would cause serious harm to wildlife and threaten our outdoor recreation economy,” said Jason Amaro, a NM Wildlife Federation board member. “A diverse sportsmen coalition agrees with most of New Mexico that a diversion is a bad idea. We trust that this strong sentiment across the state leads to the rejection of this very counter-productive project.” Letter to the Governor: November 15, 2013 Governor Susana MartinezOffice of the Governor490 Old Santa Fe TrailRoom 400Santa Fe, NM 87501 Dear Governor Martinez: Rivers are critical to quality of life and outdoor recreation opportunities here in New Mexico.  As you know, the long-term drought has taken its toll on our rivers and in turn the state’s wildlife, driving animals into urban areas and reducing the number of deer and elk available for hunting. Drought has also contributed to more frequent and severe wildfires and low river flows that have depleted native and sport fisheries. These effects have consequently impacted outdoor recreation opportunities and the local economies dependent upon hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation activities.   As sportsmen’s organizations from across the state, we are writing to express our strong support for maintaining and enhancing the health of the state’s rivers that are part of the foundation of outdoor recreation opportunities here in New Mexico. The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) is currently evaluating proposals to utilize funding from the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) to address water demands in Southwestern New Mexico. There are three Gila River diversion proposals being considered that would negatively impact wildlife, fish and outdoor recreation opportunities in the Gila region.    We are very concerned about these proposals and urge you to consider the following: 

  • The Gila River watershed in New Mexico is the nation’s first designated Wilderness Area and the last main-stem river in New Mexico without a major dam or diversion. It is home to the federally protected Gila trout, recently opened to legal fishing, carefully controlled, and now a game fish on the bucket list of many an out-of-state as well as in-state fly fisher.


  • The Gila is generally considered the only warm water trout fishery in America andas the only river in America where you can catch a wild trout and a flathead catfish out of the same pool. Such attributes move, challenge, and lure sportsmen and sportswomen to the Gila.


  • The heart of the Gila River is the 42-mile “wilderness run” (East Fork confluence to Mogollon Creek) and an unparalleled western states canoe run. It’s home to the Gila trout, and “The Box” is a superb naturally reproducing sport fishery (various trout, channel and flathead catfish, smallmouth bass and carp), while also supporting the best birding area in the state. Animals from Rocky Mountain elk to Mexican coatimundi roam the hills in this section. Incredibly, the pristine “Box” is right where the ISC has set its most favored proposal for an industrial-scale diversion dam, canal, and reservoir. This proposal is not only bad for fish, wildlife and natural habitats, but is also bad for business.


  • A recent poll commissioned by the business network, Protect the Flows,[i] found that the vast majority of New Mexicans believe that the state’s rivers are critical to quality of life (91%) and to outdoor recreation opportunities (86%), and are state treasures that should be protected for future generations (89%).


    • Over 70% of New Mexican’s polled believe that a proposed Gila River diversion would have negative impacts on wildlife and fish in the Gila River and the health of the Gila River.


    • 85% of New Mexicans believe we should use our current water supply more wisely, by continuing to conserve water, using new technology to help reduce wasted water, and increasing recycling of water.  Voters prefer this option to diverting more water from New Mexico’s rivers.


  • A recent report demonstrated that Colorado River tributaries located in New Mexico (San Juan, Gila, Animas, and San Francisco Rivers) contribute more than $2.89 billion to the state’s economy from river-related recreation and provide 17,000 jobs. [ii]

 The proposed Gila diversion project is expensive and will require that New Mexico taxpayers and water users foot the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars in construction costs, payments to Arizona for using the water, and maintaining extensive infrastructure.  As forecasts continue to warn of long-term drought, a diversion project could be rendered useless if river flows fall below levels defined by the AWSA.  The good news is that there are cost-effective measures that can meet southwest New Mexico’s future water needs while leaving the Gila River intact, therefore maintaining the quality of this premier outdoor recreation destination and supporting local economies dependent upon river-related recreation.  New Mexico should not divert water from the Gila River. On behalf of 20,000 sportsmen and sportswomen in New Mexico and over 150,000 nationally, we believe that a diversion project is too expensive and will severely limit the outdoor recreation opportunities currently available on the Gila River.  We respectfully request your support of cost-effective, non-diversion alternatives to meet the long-term water needs of the state.  Sincerely  Kristina Fischer, Vice PresidentAlbuquerque Wildlife Federation    
Albuquerque, NM                                                                                              Oscar Simpson, State ChairmanBackcountry Hunters and AnglersAlbuquerque, NM


Dave Propst, PresidentBosque Chapter of Trout Unlimited       Albuquerque, NM  John Cornell, PresidentDoña Ana County Associated SportsmenMesilla Park, NM   Nick Streit, PresidentEnchanted Circle Trout UnlimitedTaos, NM   Jeff Arterburn, PresidentGila/Rio Grande Chapter of Trout UnlimitedLas Cruces, NM  Ron Loehman, Conservation DirectorNew Mexico TroutAlbuquerque, NM  Jeremy Vesbach, Executive Director New Mexico Wildlife FederationAlbuquerque, NM Sanford Schemnitz, ChairmanSouthwest Consolidated SportsmenLas Cruces, NM  Toner Mitchell, NM Public Lands CoordinatorTrout Unlimited Santa Fe, NM Mike Rearick, President & Membership ChairTruchas Chapter of Trout UnlimitedSanta Fe, NM     CC: New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, US Senator Tom Udall, US Senator Martin Heinrich, US Representative Steve Pearce, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor    [i]Protect the Flows “Survey of New Mexico Voters Finds Concern About Rivers and Opposition to Gila River Diversion Project”[ii]Protect the Flows in Partnership with Southwick and Associates, “The Business of the Colorado River: New Mexico,” 2012,