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Poll Shows New Mexicans Prefer Alternatives to Water Diversion

PHOTO: Gila River in summer. The water level of the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado River, has New Mexicans concerned for the long-term health of the waterway. Courtesy of: Dennis O’Keefe
PHOTO: Gila River in summer. The water level of the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado River, has New Mexicans concerned for the long-term health of the waterway.
Courtesy of: Dennis O’Keefe
August 2, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A new survey shows New Mexicans see the health of their waterways as a primary concern.

And a majority of those questioned see drought and low water levels as best addressed with local solutions, rather than diverting the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado, with a project that could cost New Mexicans two-thirds of an estimated $300 million price tag.

Molly Mugglestone is co-director of Protect the Flows, a network of nearly 900 businesses that rely on a healthy Colorado River system for their bottom lines. She considers the pipeline a Band-Aid.

"There's only so much water that we're getting from snow pack and rain and when we're in a drought situation,” she says. “The structure might be there, but water probably won't be."

Mugglestone hopes the findings will guide New Mexico's governor and the Interstate Stream Commission as they consider the Gila Diversion Project.

The Interstate Stream Commission is scheduled to make its final recommendation no later than December 2014.

Mugglestone says this poll, in addition to a similar survey in Colorado and a seven state study released in December 2012, confirms what she is hearing from people who rely on the river and the $26 billion it generates in revenue for the Southwest.

"What we're seeing in these polls is, particularly this one in New Mexico, is support for non-diversion alternatives that are cost-effective and actually cheaper than building pipelines and diversions,” she says. “Examples of some of the preferred cost-effective measures: increasing conservation at home, replacing outdated water infrastructure, water-saving irrigation."

Pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies says the New Mexico voters her group polled – once the project was explained – were overwhelmingly in favor of addressing the state's water issues without building a diversion pipeline.

"Over 90 percent or greater are telling us that they would support greater water conservation, even building desalination plants," she adds.

And she says nearly three out of four described rivers in the state as critical to the region's quality of life, and six out of 10 as being crucial to the state's economy.


Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM