There’s quite a bit going on here. On one side, you have the Gila Conservation Coalition and Rep. Mimi Stewart, arguing that the $66 million tied to the Arizona Water Settlements Act can (and should) be evenly divided among the four counties in southwest New Mexico. The purpose: let each county invest the money (about $16.5 million per county), and then use the interest to pay for water projects.
On the other side is the Interstate Stream Commission, which was tasked by Congress to approve expenditures of the AWSA money (and which many feel is likely to support a diversion project). The ISC told me that House Bill 42 might not be legal, because it would supersede federal legislation. The ISC is backed up by a legislative analysis of the bill conducted by the Legislative Finance Council (see PDF here).
There were a few items that didn’t make it into my article, which I did want to mention.
Danielle Vick, Gila Program Manager for the ISC, said one of her concerns was any future development of the river. While she said a split of the initial $66 million would prohibit the state from diverting water along the Gila, there is nothing preventing a private firm from raising the funds to do so.
In addition, Vick said the scientific study being completed by the ISC would lend insight into the Gila River Basin and the river’s hydrology. She told me that nobody could describe the possible effects of residents or commercial users drilling 500 wells on private property near the river, which is one reason to continue the studies (which could be halted if House Bill 42 is adopted).
The fate of 14,000 acre-feet of water from the Gila and the San Francisco rivers is one of those issues tha’s going to be around for a while. It’s complex, and there are a lot of good ideas and strong opinions on both sides.
This bill is a reflection of that.
P.S. While we’re talking about water, I should end you over to John Fleck’s place. John has blogged several times this winter about the impact of storms on our region’s overall water situation. From one of his latest:
You can see that on the Western Regional Climate Center map above – all those bits of orange and yellow and even red across the southwest. Youâ€™ve got to get all the way over to central Colorado and New Mexico before you begin to see normal to above-normal precipitation. Those are the places most of us live – Denver and the east slope communities in Colorado, Albuquerque in New Mexico – but those are places that only contribute modestly to the regionâ€™s water supplies.