New Mexico’s last free flowing river, the Rio Gila, is under the threat of a new dam and diversion project. This project makes absolutely no economic sense and will at the same time, decimate one of the nations largest wilderness areas as well as drying up New Mexico’s last free flowing river, the Rio Gila. The following is a copy of the speech read by Cissy McAndrew. Executive Director of the Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce based in Silver City. This was presented on January 28th at the Capital in Santa Fe. She has been a tireless opponent of the dam project and represents a huge population of New Mexicans for free flowing rivers and sustained tourism based on outdoor recreation which ultimately provides millions of dollars to the New Mexican economy annually. Please take a minute to sign the following online petition.
“The Gila region where I live is a unique place. We’re the gateway to the nation’s first Wilderness Area – the Gila Wilderness – part of the 3 million acre Gila National Forest. Our rich cultural history spans the centuries from the Mogollon people who left behind the Gila Cliff Dwellings to the Apache whose fearless leader, Geronimo, was born in the area, to farming, ranching, mining and a thriving arts community. We are also home to New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, the Gila River.
Recreation and tourism are one of the primary economic drivers in my community generating $34 million – $61 million in each southwestern New Mexico county in 2011 according to recent estimates. Our priority at the SWNM Green Chamber of Commerce is to maintain our unique sense of place, vibrant community and irreplaceable environment, such as the Gila River. However, the Gila is threatened by a major water diversion and pipeline project being considered by the NM Interstate Stream Commission under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA). The latest estimates show that the project could cost between $300 million and $500 million, but because the federal subsidy available under the AWSA won’t cover all of the construction cost, the NM taxpayer could be left picking up the tab for $200 million – $350 million. This project could also impair this wild river that supports abundant wildlife and attracts outdoor recreationists spending time and money in New Mexico. The SWNM Green Chamber of Commerce along with our statewide New Mexico Green Chamber and Las Cruces Green Chamber, and more than 300 businesses across the state signed on to a letter opposing a costly Gila River diversion and in support of cost-effective conservation alternatives that can meet our region’s water supply needs now and well into the future, while also maintaining the economic benefits from recreation and tourism that the Gila River provides. Senate Bill 89 and Senate Bill 90 introduced last week by Senator Peter Wirth and Senator Howie Morales would make AWSA funding available for cost-effective water supply projects that meet our needs immediately and would also ensure that the New Mexico budget is not burdened by hundreds of millions of dollars in costs for an unnecessary Gila River diversion project. These are fiscally responsible approaches to meeting southwestern New Mexico’s long-term water needs, that respect our region’s desire to maintain our unique community and environment, and that fuel future economic development that will move our communities forward.