American Rivers listed the Gila River as number four among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014. This designation shines a national spotlight on the threat that an expensive and unnecessary pipeline and diversion project poses to New Mexico’s last free-flowing river.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Matt Niemerski of American Rivers. “It makes no sense to build an expensive and harmful diversion on New Mexico’s last free-flowing river when quicker, easier, and cheaper water supply solutions exist.”
The Gila River is threatened by the construction of a large diversion that would capture an average of 14,000 acre-feet of water annually, or double the current withdrawals, to increase crop production and urbanization. A former director of the New Mexico’s Interstate Stream Commission estimates the project would likely cost two to three times more than current cost estimates of $300 million to $500 million. Fortunately, cheaper, more cost-effective water supply solutions exist, such as municipal and agricultural conservation, effluent reuse, sustainable use of existing groundwater supplies, and watershed restoration.
“A diversion on the Gila would be devastating to New Mexico’s natural heritage,” said Beth Bardwell, Director of Freshwater Conservation for Audubon New Mexico. “What’s at stake is the largest stretch of cottonwood-willow riparian forest remaining in New Mexico, one of the highest concentrations of breeding birds in North America, and a living river that supports outdoor recreation and tourism for rural communities.”
American Rivers and its partners called on New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez to protect the Gila River and ensure that her Interstate Stream Commission consider and implement cheaper and more effective non-diversion alternatives to meet southwest New Mexico’s water supply needs.
When asked in a June 2013 poll which approach they would prefer to address the state’s water situation, New Mexico residents overwhelmingly supported conservation-based alternatives to diversions. Eighty-five percent of residents support using current water supplies more wisely, by continuing to conserve water, using new technology to help reduce wasted water, and increasing recycling of water.
A tributary to the Colorado River, the Gila originates in America’s first designated wilderness area, the Gila Wilderness, and is rich in biological diversity and cultural history. The Gila River supports healthy riverside forests, cold water fisheries, and a remarkable abundance of wildlife. The river also provides significant economic value to the region with unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature-based travel, and wilderness experience.
The America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
For more information on America’s Most Endangered Rivers or to see the complete list, go to www.americanrivers.org.