Senator John Arthur Smith’s Pipeline Threat AWSA Process Heats Up as Deadline Approaches
(Scroll to the bottom for an update on this issue)
With a little more than a year to go before New Mexico makes a decision on the use of 14,000 acre-feet/year of Gila River water, powerful interests have begun to show their cards in the nearly decade-long Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) planning process. Senator John Arthur Smith (D – Doña Ana, Luna, Hidalgo, Sierra counties), chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, submitted a capital outlay request during the current 60-day legislative session for $25-million for the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) “to plan, design and construct a water conveyance pipeline from the Gila-San Francisco water basin to the Las Cruces metropolitan area in Hidalgo, Luna, Doña Ana, and Grant counties.” Senator Smith’s staff has cited the Lower Rio Grande water rights dispute and helping Mesilla Valley farmers with their “Texas problem” as the reason behind his request.
Senator Smith’s request to fund the export of Gila River water to the Rio Grande Basin flies in the faces of southwestern New Mexico stakeholders who have been working for years through the AWSA planning process to determine how New Mexico should utilize funding and/or water under the AWSA. This process is not complete. There is no engineering, cost, or environmental impact assessment available yet that tells us if a diversion and storage facility from the Gila River is economically or environmentally feasible — and if end-users can even pay for it. Funding a pipeline before those questions are answered is premature at best.
A Gila pipeline capital outlay would be a small fraction of the price tag for projects that will cost much, much more. AWSA federal funds are only 40% of the estimated capital cost of a $300-million (or more) diversion and storage project (DB Stephens & Associates, 2012). Construction alone of a pipeline from a Gila-San Francisco Basin diversion/storage facility to Las Cruces could cost well over $100-million, not factoring in 30% of construction costs for “construction/ installation contingencies” (e.g., rights-of-way, pumping stations, environmental mitigation, etc). Piping Gila water to the Rio Grande might also require a storage reservoir in Doña Ana County.
According to Legislative Finance Committee staff, this year’s revenue projections look bleak and there may only be $100-million available for the capital outlay requests of 112 House and Senate legislators. So what’s going on here? Senator Smith’s staff indicates that he is trying to “send a message” to force stakeholders to agree on a project(s) that will use Gila River water. These “message bills” represent irresponsible governance and create fear and division among stakeholders who have dedicated years of their time and effort to work together to determine how best to use AWSA funds and/or water.
UPDATE 2/21/13 – Senator Smith’s $25M capital outlay request for a pipeline from the Gila to Las Cruces had its desired effect. In secret meetings not open to the public, state and local officials have been scrambling to cut a back room deal on the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) to divert Gila River water for use in Silver City, the Mining District and Deming so that Senator Smith won’t fulfill his trumped up threat to send the Gila water to the Rio Grande if southwest New Mexico doesn’t come up with a unified plan. At the February 19 Gila-San Francisco Water Commission meeting and as documented in a draft resolution for governmental entities to sign, GCC learned that a meeting was held on February 12 with the State Engineer’s Deming Office, county commissioners, and other local government officials to “provide direction to the City of Deming in amending its [AWSA Tier 2] application…..a diversion project with one or two storage facilities capable of diverting and storing the full amount of AWSA water for future use.”
These meetings have not been open to the public, subverting the AWSA public process that citizens in Southwestern New Mexico have participated in the last several years. The multi-stakeholder planning process resulted in a range of non-diversion projects being put forward for consideration. None of the analyses for any of the diversion or non-diversion projects has been completed, yet there is pressure being applied by state officials for communities to withdraw their local AWSA proposals and to support this new diversion project instead. It is short sighted for local communities to support only one diversion project before enough technical, economic and environmental information is available to make a sound decision on how to meet our future water needs in a cost-effective way without damaging the unique Gila River. Please take action TODAY on this important issue that has profound implications for the Gila River, our taxes and water rates!