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State Commission Approves Controversial Gila River Diversion

PHOTO: The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is giving a green light to a controversial project that would divert water from the Gila River. Photo courtesy of Garrett Veneklasen.
PHOTO: The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is giving a green light to a controversial project that would divert water from the Gila River. Photo courtesy of Garrett Veneklasen.
November 25, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. - The controversial Gila River diversion project won the approval of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission on Monday, but its ultimate destiny remains in the hands of Governor Susana Martinez.

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, says diverting the river could have a major impact on threatened and endangered species, as well as the area's lucrative tourism industry.

"Recreation and tourism are a massive rural economic driver in New Mexico," says VeneKlasen. "When you start degrading these habitats, landscapes, and watersheds, you degrade the ability to sell this to the public."

The proposed diversion is linked to the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004, which granted Gila River water to Native American tribes in Arizona. The project still requires approval from Governor Martinez, review by the federal government, and a major funding source.

Some estimates put the project's eventual cost at more than $1 billion. VeneKlasen says that number could be on the low side.

"There are a lot of hoops to go through and all of those hoops are going to cost even more money," he says. "The final cost of this thing will be far in excess of a billion dollars."

VeneKlasen says he's encouraging New Mexicans who enjoy camping, hunting, fishing and hiking along the river to call on Governor Martinez to stop all state funding for the Gila River diversion.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM