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Plan calls for diverting, storing water from Gila River

April 18, 2020 GMT

SILVER CITY, N.M. (AP) — Water from two rivers that span parts of New Mexico and Arizona would be diverted and stored under a project proposed by the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity.

The proposal calls for storing water from the Gila and San Francisco rivers at sites in the Virden Valley or along the San Francisco River in New Mexico.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission are gathering public comments on an environmental review of the proposal.

The fight over the Gila River has prompted protests and legal fights over the years. Environmentalists have suggested the effort to divert water would result in a $1 billion boondoggle, but supporters argue that the project is vital to supplying communities and irrigation districts in southwestern New Mexico with a new source of water as drought persists.

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Under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, New Mexico is entitled to 14,000 acre-feet of water a year, or about 4.5 billion gallons. State officials opted to build a diversion system, as that alternative opened the door to more federal funding. The state would have received less had it pursued other water projects in the region.

It missed a deadline in December to have an environmental review completed and approved by federal officials in order to free up additional funding. Still, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity has more than $60 million it could spend on a diversion and regional water projects.

The draft environmental review that’s up for review now considers four alternatives to construct, operate and maintain the proposed project. Officials don’t have a preferred alternative, saying it’s likely a “no action” alternative will be selected until funding is secured.

“We need public feedback and encourage commenters to focus on the analysis of costs and benefits of the alternatives to make any future decisions,” said Alexander Smith, the deputy area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Phoenix office.

Comments will be accepted through June 8.

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