By the 21st Century, you might think that every magical, special, ecologically-intact spot on this planet would long since be on the tourist trail, and maybe even find itself over-developed. Somehow, though, the mountains, streams and wildlife that make up the Gila ("hee-la") are still here to be explored, loved and protected (New York Times Article:
Walking a Dream of Desolation).
The Gila River carves its way 650 miles through America's first designated wilderness area. Hikers share backcountry with mountain lions, fox and lizards, coyotes, hawks, elk and bears. And the human past shouts its history in pictographs, cliff dwellings, and historic ranches.
who explore the Gila River's wilderness watershed know that
the largely wild flow of the Gila River is literally the lifeblood
of this national treasure, and must be preserved for all time.
indeed, vigilance is needed. The Gila River continues to be
threatened by water development projects. With good planning
and citizen involvement, New Mexico's last wild river can
be a magical and healthy ecosystem for our children to enjoy
for generations to come. Read more.
Sometimes the good guys win!: Congratulations UGWA on River Otter Reintroduction!
At the February 23 New Mexico Game Commission meeting, the Game Commission did NOT take the recommendation of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish to pull the plug on river otter reintroduction in the Gila River. Repeat: River Otter Reintroduction is still a possibility!
The Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, a partner in the Gila Conservation Coalition, traveled to the Game Commission meeting in Hobbs (7 hour drive!) to speak up for river otters. Many thanks to our friends - Jon Klingel, Melissa Savage, Nancy Kaminski, Rinda Metz, and Cynthia Wolf - who also spoke in favor of river otter reintroduction.
PLEASE call or email the Game Commissioners to thank them for their willingness to keep river otter reintroduction alive. A "maybe" is better than a "no"!
Here's the contact info for the Game Commissioners:
Interstate Stream Commission Approves Projects for AWSA Assessment Non-diversion Alternatives Remain on the List for Further Consideration
You did it! Thanks to over 70 of you who contacted the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) and urged commissioners to approve non-diversion projects for analysis under the Arizona Water Settlements Act. The Commission approved ISC staff recommendations to further refine and study most of the 20 Tier 2 proposals, including 16 non-diversion alternatives and 3 diversion projects. Check out GCC's press release for more details on what the ISC approved. The story appeared as an AP article on March 3rd, 2012, "NM grapples with future of the Gila River".
You joined with 120 businesses in southwest New Mexico and the Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce who signed on to a letter to the ISC in support of non-diversion alternatives stating, "We have an opportunity under the Arizona Water Settlements Act to satisfy southwest New Mexico's water needs affordably while at the same time maintaining the Gila River as a natural asset for local agriculture, tourism and recreation. It is critical that we make responsible choices for the long-term sustainability of our local economies."
Thank you for your support for the Gila River. Your input really made a difference!
NEW: AWSA Tier 2 Proposals NOW Available! 2/23/2012
The Gila Conservation Coalition requested in a letter to the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) on Monday, February 13, that the full Tier 2 proposals along with other information be made available to stakeholders in advance of the NM First Town Hall.
Although the ISC responded with some of the information that we asked for such as the evaluation panel's proposal rankings, the agency did not reply to our request for the full Tier 2 proposals.
GCC was forced therefore to submit a formal Inspection of Public Records Act request on Friday, February 17.
Today, we were able to obtain the full proposals and we are making these documents available to the public immediately given that the ISC will make a final decision on Wednesday, February 29 on which of these proposals will move forward under the AWSA for further analysis.
New Mexico must notify the Secretary of the Interior by December 31, 2014 whether or not it will use Gila River water or pursue "non-diversion" alternatives under the AWSA.
The ISC will meet Wednesday February 29 at 10 am at
NM Interstate Stream Commission
5550 San Antonio Dr. NE
ISC Conference Room
8th Annual Gila River Festival Scheduled for September 13 - 16, 2012
Stories of the Gila: Author Craig Childs to be Keynote Speaker
Stories connect us to place and community. They allow us to inhabit the natural world emotionally and to feel a visceral bond that moves us to protect that world.
Stories are important, and they aren’t just for kids. They shape the way we live and think about the world. Tales of America’s splendor encouraged a flood of immigration to the New World, and later persuaded pioneers to pack their wagons and settle the West.
The West is now fully populated, and growth shows no signs of stopping. Environmental problems are at an all-time high, and it’s past time to develop solutions, brainstorm innovations, reinvent ourselves and our relationship to the world. In short, we need to create new stories.
At the 8th Annual Gila River Festival, we will do just that. From September 13-16, 2012, we will tell classic stories of the Gila and generate new ones. Join master storyteller Craig Childs, author of The Secret Knowledge of Water, House of Rain, and The Animal Dialogues, as he weaves the magic of the Gila into whole cloth.
Guggenheim Fellow photographer Michael Berman’s new book of photos and essays, The Gila: Radical Visions, Enduring Silence will be released to coincide with the Gila River Festival, and we’ll host an opening reception and book signing for Michael. As well, some of the writers from his book will tell their stories during the festival.
The Gila River needs – and deserves – a new story. Or perhaps we need to return to an ancient story, one that values and respects the natural world, its rivers and wild places.
There are misguided forces that want to divert and dewater the Gila River. People who don’t sense wonder or magic at the Gila – only a resource to be exploited and sold to the highest bidder.
Our calling is to save the Gila River, to rewrite the stories of how we inhabit this arid land, and to re-imagine our relationship with water, that most sacred essence.
7th Annual Gila River Festival Keynote Speaker Sandra Postel Blogs About the Gila River
Interstate Stream Commission Approves Funding for Additional Study of Agricultural Conservation, Wetlands Restoration and Water Bank for Outdoor Watering in Gila-San Francisco Basin in AWSA Planning Process
The Gila Conservation Coalition attended yesterday’s Interstate Stream Commission meeting and was successful in getting the ISC commissioners to approve allocation of planning funds to study the benefits of agricultural conservation in the Mimbres Basin and to examine the potential for this alternative to decrease the agricultural sector’s impact to groundwater resources in southwest New Mexico as we move forward under the AWSA planning process. GCC was also successful in encouraging the ISC to approve allocation of funds to study wetlands restoration and a water bank for outdoor watering in the Gila-San Francisco Basin.
GCC was able to present in its public comment the perspective that agricultural conservation reduces water use and provides a net benefit to our groundwater reserves. The ISC commissioners agreed that agricultural conservation warrants further study and examination of decreased depletions already achieved from drip irrigation and the potential to realize additional progress in the Mimbres Basin. Inappropriate extrapolation of research results along with outdated data are being used to discredit the benefits of drip irrigation. Combined with reduced water use from the mining sector, agricultural conservation has likely reduced the groundwater deficit reported in 2005 using data from 2000.
We are pleased that the commission approved the wetlands restoration proposal for further study. Wetlands restoration would allow for naturally-created or built wetlands on land adjacent to the Gila River corridor and would reconnect the river to the floodplain and accommodate large flood flows. Wetlands would allow for the river’s proper functioning condition, thereby improving groundwater infiltration and storage, slowing flood velocity and reducing bank erosion. Providing increased groundwater recharge and flood protection will benefit irrigators and the native flora and fauna that are adversely affected during times when the Gila River dries up.
The Gila-San Francisco Basin is the only watershed in New Mexico that prohibits domestic outdoor water use. This prohibition is the result of the Rifkind Decree adjudication of the basin in the Arizona v. California case. We are pleased that the Commission approved further study of the legal and technical aspects of using existing unused water rights or AWSA water to set up a system for modest use of domestic outdoor watering.
We want to thank all of you who took the time to email the ISC with your comments and concerns. Your efforts really made a difference in keeping the door open to consideration of cost-effective conservation and restoration measures that will help us to meet our future demand for water while also keeping the Gila free flowing.
New Documents Available on the GCC Website
Implementation of the Arizona Water Settlements Act in New Mexico: A Legal Overview (Adrian Oglesby, Natural Resource Legal Consultant, Ltd., February 2011)
Water attorney, Adrian Oglesby, has distilled down the core elements of the New Mexico-related sections of the Arizona Water Settlements Act so that the layperson can more easily understand this complicated piece of legislation and how it relates to New Mexico's use of money and water under the Act. Read the full report here.
Gila Conservation Coalition Presentation to the Water and Natural Resources Interim Legislative Committee (August 1, 2011)
Download Gila Conservation Coalition's presentation to the WNR Committee that outlines the tradeoffs between diversion and non-diversion alternatives that have been submitted by various stakeholders to the Interstate Stream Commission for consideration for AWSA funding. The Gila Conservation Coalition supports a balanced, fair, and fiscally responsible approach to meeting the water needs of southwest NM. Non-diversion alternatives 1) meet the water needs of everyone in southwest NM – municipalities, farmers/ranchers, environment 2) are cost-effective and don’t put the taxpayer and water users in financial risk and 3) Provide security in supply over the long term. View the presentation here.
Documents received from NM Interstate Stream Commission as a result of GCC's Inspection of Public Records Act Request
Because the Gila Conservation Coalition has serious concerns about the transparency of the ISC's AWSA planning process, GCC requested documents from the Interstate Stream Commission under New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act. This law provides an open window for the public and media to access information deemed of import to the public interest. This is one of the basic rights of our democratic society -- Open Government-- and is a crucial aspect of a functioning democracy.
Although we are still going through over 1000 pages of documents we received, here are a few of the more important ones previously unavailable to the public that you can download below.
Overview of the Geomorphology of the Upper Gila River Basin
Rebecca M. Summer, PhD
Evolution of the Upper Gila River Basin in New Mexico has been controlled by the earth’s structural movement, geology, climate and, over the last century, human activity. Current climatic changes of warmer temperatures and reduced snowpack appear to be modifying the sediment patterns, stream flow, flora and fauna. The extent of future impacts on the basin will depend on the adaptability of biophysical properties of the land and water under uncertain changing conditions. To read the complete report, click here.
Interstate Stream Commission Approves AWSA Evaluation Process:Lack of transparency and bias against municipal projects remain
The Interstate Stream Commission met in Silver City today to hear public comment on and approve the Tier 2 evaluation criteria and schedule under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) planning process (listen to the meeting). Despite eliminating some of the bias against non-diversion water utilization projects in its latest draft, the scoring system approved today still favors diversion projects over municipal infrastructure projects. Additionally, the commissioners will not allow the public to attend and observe meetings of the project evaluation panel even though no contracts or grants will directly result from this review process.
The ISC backed off of its proposed 10-to-1 scoring system in favor of diversion after significant public outcry. The scoring system approved today provides equal weight to conservation projects that extend water supply and projects that develop “new” AWSA water through a Gila River diversion.
However, projects that develop unused, existing water rights are not given equal weight in the evaluation process approved today. The AWSA provides $66 million for any water utilization project that meets a water supply demand in southwest New Mexico. Thousands of acre-feet of unused water rights exist in the Mimbres Basin and could be utilized sustainably for water supply. For example, the Town of Silver City has proposed a portfolio of projects that regionalize the water distribution system between the town and the Mining District and develop a new well field using existing water rights at the Grant County Airport. These projects make common sense and should be given the opportunity for consideration in the AWSA process. It appears that these projects would not garner any points for the water supply criterion (half of the total points allowed), despite providing water to 24,500 people, according to the Town of Silver City’s project summary.
“It’s short sighted to arbitrarily eliminate municipal water supply projects from further assessment at this early date. The evaluation process should consider all projects that meet the intent of the AWSA and advance the best for further study in the ISC’s Assessment Phase in 2012,” stated Allyson Siwik GCC Executive Director.
Additionally, the Gila Conservation Coalition continues to be very concerned about the transparency of this process. “There is no justification for the ISC to exclude the public from meetings of the evaluation committee reviewing AWSA proposals. As a fundamental tenet of open government, it is critical that the ISC allow the public access to the evaluation process,” continued Siwik.
GCC has made two Inspection of Public Records Act requests to the ISC and has found a disturbing pattern of activities happening behind closed doors. The results of GCC’s 2008 IPRA request showed that despite the ISC saying that it has no plans for a diversion project, the ISC hired William Miller Engineering to do preliminary design work for a diversion around Turkey Creek with a canal system to Mangas Creek (William Miller Engineering document). GCC’s second request is still in the process of being evaluated, but so far documents reveal a consultant hired to do a “financing/marketing study” on how the ISC could bond against AWSA funding and a contract let to conduct stream gauging at 23 sites on the Gila River.
“It’s time for more transparency and less secrecy. The ISC should allow the public to observe the project evaluation process and avoid the perception that the commission has something to hide,” concluded Siwik.
Gila River at Stake as AWSA Evaluation Process Unfolds Please contact the NM Interstate Stream Commission TODAY to tell them you want a fair, open and transparent process to determine how southwest New Mexico will meet its future water needs.
After years of denying that it was pushing for a Gila River water development project under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA), the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) unveiled its system for scoring proposals that gives 10 times more weight to diversion projects than non-diversion projects. It will be impossible for a non-diversion project to score on par or higher than a diversion project under this evaluation scheme. The ISC is stacking the deck against cost-effective, non-diversion projects and will predetermine the outcome of this important decision on how to meet Southwest New Mexico's future water needs without full public participation and transparency. Read more
7th Annual Gila River Festival September 15 – 18: National Geographic’s Freshwater Fellow Sandra Postel will give Keynote Address
Mark your calendars for September 15 – 18 for the 7th Annual Gila River Festival. We are pleased to announce that the National Geographic Society’s Freshwater Fellow Sandra Postel will give the keynote address at this year’s festival. According to the National Geographic Society, Ms. Postel “is recognized as one of the world's most respected authorities on freshwater issues and is hailed for her "inspiring, innovative, and practical approach" to promoting the preservation and sustainable use of Earth’s freshwater.” Ms. Postel has discussed her ideas for redirecting society’s use and management of fresh water toward conservation and ecosystem health in a recent YES Magazine article.
The 7th annual Gila River Festival will examine what's at stake as southwestern New Mexico contemplates whether to use Gila River water under the Arizona Water Settlements Act. Our belief is that we can have water for people AND for nature. The Festival will provide opportunities to learn more about the Gila’s natural and cultural history, ecological and economic importance and common-sense solutions to meet our water needs that work WITH the environment rather than against it, saving us money and protecting the Gila at the same time. Read more
To be a Gila River Festival sponsor fill out and return this form.
House Bill 301 to Create New Mexico Unit Fund Clears House 66-0
Sponsored by Representative Rudy Martinez, House Bill 301 to establish the New Mexico Unit Fund cleared the House in a 66 – 0 vote on Monday. Beginning in 2012 under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA), New Mexico receives $66M in federal subsidy in $6.6M annual increments for water projects that meet a water supply demand in southwestern New Mexico. It is necessary for the NM Unit Fund to be established for the purpose of accepting these monies and requiring that any interest that accrues on the principal remains in the fund rather than reverting to the state’s General Fund. Representative Martinez and Senator Howie Morales were instrumental in ensuring that the bill language is consistent with the federal law and allows for expenditure of AWSA funding on non-diversion alternatives. This is critical language that recognizes that AWSA subsidy dollars can be spent on any water project that meets a water supply demand in southwestern New Mexico, such as cost-effective solutions like municipal and agricultural conservation and sustainable groundwater management. Implementation of these projects can begin immediately once the AWSA funding has arrived in the NM Unit Fund.
AWSA Update: Interstate Stream Commission to Identify Alternatives for Further Study by End of 2011
After six years of planning and study, the latest New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) schedule proposes that the ISC will approve initial projects requiring further legal, technical, engineering and ecological assessments by the end of 2011. Using AWSA funds that begin to come to the state in 2012, the ISC will engage in additional data collection, analysis and refinement of project proposals in 2012-2013 with a final decision on whether or not the state will use Gila River water by the end of 2014. Throughout the planning process, GCC has kept cost-effective non-diversion alternatives in the forefront of discussions in the AWSA planning process to ensure that they are considered as the state makes this critical decision. A common-sense approach to meeting our future water needs is through implementation of cost-effective water supply and demand management alternatives rather than a large-scale, Gila River diversion project, thus protecting the Gila River and the wildlands it supports for future generations and saving the tax payer money. Read more about GCC’s common-sense solutions for meeting our future water needs and the costs of a Gila River diversion.
Protestants File Motion to Dismiss Augustin Plains Ranch Application 2/28/11
On behalf of the Gila Conservation Coalition and approximately 80 other protestants, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s Bruce Frederick filed a motion to dismiss the Augustin Plains Ranch application to take 54,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from the Rio Grande Basin to either use or sell. Because the corporation identifies no particular beneficial use in its application and the place of use is anywhere within a 12 million acre area, the motion states that the State Engineer and the parties to the case are not able to adequately determine whether or to what extent the “proposed appropriation” will impact existing water rights, be contrary to the conservation of water, or be detrimental to public welfare. For these reasons, the motion argues that the State Engineer cannot lawfully or rationally issue a permit to the Corporation without violating statutory duties and denying water rights owners due process. Moreover, the Corporation’s attempt to monopolize a water supply for the purposes of speculation and possible future water sales is not a beneficial use and cannot form the basis of a permit to appropriate water. To support efforts to oppose this application, contact Carol Pittman at 575-772-5866 or email@example.com
GCC wins 2009 River Warrior Award
Along with 30 other environmental groups and individuals, the Gila
Conservation Coalition won a 2009 River Warrior Award for its efforts over
the past 25 years to protect the Gila River, New Mexico's last free-flowing
river, from dams and diversions. The San Francisco-based nonprofit Resource
Renewal Institute sponsors the award with the hope of encouraging the
"valiant, resolute efforts in defending free flowing rivers and the wildlife
that depends on them; and in acknowledgement of the commitment, hard work,
and dedication of all who work for free flowing water." Read full press
Check out GCC's 25th anniversary video
"Saving the Gila: New Mexico's Last Wild River"
"Bottlenecks & Resilience" along the Gila River with Mike Fugagli
Gila River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers Water Development Threatens New Mexico’s Last Free-flowing River
April 17, 2008; Silver City, NM – The Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, has been named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, by the organization American Rivers. The Gila is threatened by a major water development project that could double the amount of water currently withdrawn from the river, degrading this ecological jewel and imposing hundreds of millions of dollars of cost on taxpayers for an unnecessary project. The river has long been eyed for its water development potential, but estimated costs, environmental impacts, and community opposition have precluded previous projects from moving forward. Read more
Gila Conservation Coalition
305A N Cooper Street
Silver City, NM 88061
Organized in 1984 to protect the free flow of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and the wilderness characteristics of the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas, the Gila Conservation Coalition (GCC) is a partnership of local environmental and conservation groups and concerned individuals that promote conservation of the Upper Gila River Basin and surrounding lands.