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New Mexico: Threats To The Gila River And To Public Stream Access

Posted: 03/30/2015
by Nathan Fey

March was a busy month for AW as we worked to derail two very troubling bills in the New Mexico legislature, while continuing to stop a devastating Gila River diversion.

First, the legislation: The bills were a reaction to a recent NM Attorney General opinion that suggested most riverbed and riverbanks between low and high water marks are open to public use. But the bills went way overboard, so to speak, in trying to keep anglers off private land, and in the process undoing NM’s constitutional protection of river water as a public trust and the incidental rights of paddlers to make contact with private property. The bills, if signed into law, make any landing on the streambed or bank a criminal trespassing offense.

AW and the Adobe Whitewater Club have succeeded in stopping the bills’ proponents from granting authority to the State Game Commission to decide which rivers are navigable, and thus deserving of protection. We have also secured some good language about the bills impact on navigability under the Clean Water Act.

But the trespassing issue remains, and AW is working hard to ensure that the Attorney General, the AG's Office, the NM Tourism Office and Gov. Martinez kill these bills, and set up a task force to study the core issues at hand, rather than rushing to ill-conceived (and expensive) actions. It just doesn’t make sense to criminalize the 300,000 people who float NM’s rivers every year.

Now about that wild and beautiful Gila: A truly misguided proposal that is carryign over from last year, would siphon the last free-flowing New Mexican river and in the process destroy some of the most precious, beautiful and fun river habitat in the entire Southwest.

The new diversion would harm wildlife, fish and river health, and be devastating to local economies that depend on outdoor recreation. They would also be horrendously expensive, in one recent analysis costing two to three times more than the $300-$500 million estimate. If this proposal is approved by Gov. Susana Martinez, over 14,000 acre-feet of water would be diverted annually – this is double the current withdrawals.

The whole things makes no sense, particularly because there are cheaper and more efficient, and far less environmentally damaging, ways to meet the region’s water needs.

The Governor has yet to make a final decision on the project, and the delays are already a victory for the many New Mexicans and others who have pressed her to deny this boondoogle. But we are not done yet. Use our Twitter tool to tell the Governor, and the new Interstate Stream Commission Chairman Jim Dunlap, to pull the project off the table all together. 

Colorado Stewardship Director
Nathan Fey
1601 Longs Peak Ave.
Longmont, CO 80501
Phone: 303-859-8601