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The FBI’s Peter Strzok spends 10 hours in open testimony in Congress. Also on the Friday rundown: Granite Staters protest AG Sessions' approach to fighting opioid abuse, and Latino Conservation Week starts on Saturday.

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Hundreds Of NM Businesses Oppose Gila River Diversion Projects

PHOTO: More than 300 businesses in New Mexico are calling on Governor Susana Martinez to not spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Gila River diversion projects. Photo courtesy of the U-S Geological Survey.
PHOTO: More than 300 businesses in New Mexico are calling on Governor Susana Martinez to not spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Gila River diversion projects. Photo courtesy of the U-S Geological Survey.
January 22, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. - More than 300 businesses in New Mexico are calling on Gov. Susana Martinez to not spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Gila River diversion projects.

The businesses, along with the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, recently expressed their concerns in a letter sent to the governor.

Kurt Albershardt, owner of the Murray Hotel in Silver City, is among the business owners opposed to the water projects. He said much of the region's economy is linked to hunting, fishing and recreating on the Gila River and in the Gila National Forest.

"Part of what we're selling here to the people who come to visit is the access to wilderness," he said, "and a big part of that wilderness is a river that isn't full of dams and diversions."

Tourism and recreation along New Mexico's rivers reportedly generate more than $1.6 billion a year for the state's economy.

The proposed diversion is linked to the "Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004," which granted Gila River water to tribes in Arizona. Under the agreement, the federal government is expected to contribute more than $100 million for the New Mexico water projects.

Albershardt said taxpayers will pay the balance.

"The state of New Mexico and the taxpayers of New Mexico are going to be on the hook for at least $200 million for these projects," he said.

Martinez is expected to decide this year on the diversion projects, which Albershardt says could include moving water to Deming for agricultural purposes. He said putting more focus on conservation and improving infrastructure could go a long way toward helping to secure New Mexico's water future.

The Gila River is the state's only river without dams, Albershardt said, calling the Gila National Forest the nation's biggest untamed wilderness outside of Alaska.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM