Gov. Richardson’s idea of the “Year of Water”

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Bill Richardson today line-item vetoed (PDF — check page 243) $945,000 to study the ecology of the Gila River. The funding was tied to the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which might provide 14,000 acre-feet of water per year. In addition, the act sets aside $66 million for water projects in southwest New Mexico.

This is a tangled web of stories and interests.

Silver City Mayor James Marshall on Tuesday alleged that his community was shortchanged on captial outlay funding so that the study could be completed. He also said a Richardson staffer is the one who told him that Silver City was essentially funding the study with its share of capital outlay money. I’m waiting for a call from the governor’s office to confirm the comment.

If you go back to the beginning of the session, you’ll see Lt. Gov. Diane Denish talking (PDF) about the importance of conservation along the Gila, but also saying that the AWSA would have to be implemented in an environmentally conscious way. That won’t happen unless the studies are completed to determine the river’s ecology.

Finally, you have Bill Hume, Richardson’s advisor penning a letter to the editor (which will appear in tomorrow’s Silver City Daily Press) explaining why the study is needed: to conduct environmental research (click here for more information).

I don’t know whether a diversion project is a good idea; that’s what the study is supposed to determine. With deadlines built into the AWSA, we may never know.

Richardson’s action today might only serve the interests of Arizona.

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