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The Gila River is New Mexico’s last free-flowing river. Originating in America’s first designated wilderness area, the Gila is rich in biological diversity and cultural history. Riparian ecosystems comprise less than 1% of New Mexico’s arid landscape, and the Gila’s natural cycle of flows supports outstanding examples of southwest riparian forest, cold water fisheries and a remarkable abundance of wildlife. The Gila River’s gallery forests are high value bird habitat supporting one of the highest concentrations of breeding birds in America including the federally endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, and other regional specialties like the common black-hawk, Montezuma quail, and the elf owl. The Gila River also provides one of the most intact native fish communities in the Lower Colorado River Basin including the federally endangered loach minnow, spike dace, and threatened Gila trout. The Gila provides significant economic value to the region through unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature-based specialty travel and wilderness experience.

In 2004 Congress passed the AWSA that authorized diversion of the Gila River if New Mexico agreed to buy water from Arizona to replace what the state takes out of the river. $100 million (2004$) was made available through the AWSA. $66 million of this is available to meet local water needs in southwest New Mexico without diverting the Gila River. A diversion project is expensive with costs now estimated at over $1 billion (construction, OM&R, exchange costs), has low water yield, and will negatively impact the hydrology and ecology of the Gila River.

In November 2014, the Interstate Stream Commission voted to move forward with planning for a Gila River diversion project under the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA). Although the ISC has decided to move forward, fundamental questions remain unanswered that have enormous financial implications for the state, such as purpose and need for the project, project yield, end water users, full accounting of project costs, financing, affordability, and technical, legal and financial capacity of the NM CAP Entity to design, build, operate and maintain the NM Unit.

Additionally, the ISC’s planning process has lacked transparency, operating outside of the Open Meetings Act, and has hid from the public and the legislature the full cost of the project, the financing, and affordability – facts that have enormous financial implications for New Mexico taxpayers and water users in SWNM.

New Mexico must now designate a NM CAP Entity and specify its responsibilities to design, construct, operate and maintain the NM Unit. This entity must execute the NM Unit Agreement with the Secretary of Interior by November 24, 2015 before the NEPA process can begin.

Key Things to Know about the AWSA and the Gila River – Fact Sheet

Solutions to Southwest New Mexico’s Long-term Water Needs Under the AWSAFact Sheet

Southwestern New Mexico Audubon and Gila Native Plant Society Position Paper on Protection of the Gila RiverFact Sheet

Survey of New Mexico Voters Finds Concern about Rivers and Opposition to Gila River Diversion ProjectPoll Results

The Gila River Is In Our HandsVideo