Southwest Water Planning Group discussion

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Representatives from Sen. Pete Domenici’s office were in town to meet with local residents and officials yesterday. The topic: the Southwest Water Planning Group. Comprised of eighteen governments and quasi-governmental agencies in the four counties in southwest New Mexico, the planning group was established to decide what to do with 14,000 acre-feet of water granted to New Mexico as part of the Gila River Water Settlement Act.

Domenici’s reps met with Silver City Mayor James Marshall, among others, as part of a fact-finding mission to look at the planning group’s progress.

“They wanted to know what was really important to us, with the project,” Marshall said. “My reply was, basically, we need to ensure they get the proper funding to make sure all the planning and studies get completed.”

Marshall said on Tuesday that Silver City had not signed a Joint Powers Agreement that would formalize the Planning Group. The JPA would establish a fiscal infrastructure for the group. Marshall told me this morning the town had not signed the JPA because the planning and studies related to the settlement are not yet complete.

Meanwhile, Silver City became the last government entity in Grant County to sign a JPA creating a countywide water commission this week. Catron County has already made a similar move, so it looks as though the counties are getting set for a turf war regarding the 14,000 acre-feet from the Gila.

Meanwhile, residents in Arizona are wondering what’s going to happen to the Gila if New Mexico holds back that water:

But the effects seem most visible on the Gila, if only because when industry tamed the other rivers, the Gila suffered, too. And the demands on the Gila itself, especially on its upper reaches, have not lessened and will likely grow as New Mexico studies a plan to build its first dam on the river.

Efforts to save the Gila are as patchy as the river itself, which is dying along its lower reaches. Work started nearly a decade ago to restore lengths in urban Maricopa County, but those projects will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and require a permanent commitment of money and water.

There is no overall vision or riverwide rescue plan, and it’s unlikely such a plan could address every threat in time. It’s as if Arizonans stopped thinking of the Gila as a complete river and see it instead as an industrial waterway – if they see it at all.

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