- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Two University of New Mexico researchers say state water managers based their decision to pursue a multimillion-dollar diversion and storage project along the Gila River based on flawed information and studies that lacked credibility.

The Interstate Stream Commission last year informed the U.S. Interior Department that the state wanted to take advantage of federal funding to divert water from the river, with some of the money going toward municipal conservation efforts and other projects aimed at stretching the drought-stricken region’s water supplies.

Researchers Jim Brooks and Dave Propst are questioning the economic and environmental viability of the project. They outlined their concerns in a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday (https://bit.ly/1IjggnF ).

“Promulgated without rigorous and transparent peer review; planned, proposed and presented behind closed doors, (the ISC) studies lack credibility and should not be considered the ‘best available science,’” the letter said. “The ISC position of minimal or no impacts or even benefits of the proposal to divert and store Gila River water is based upon insufficient and flawed technical information.”

The commission is defending its decision, saying there were more than 200 public meetings and that “exhaustive research and studies” support New Mexico receiving additional water from the Gila.

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. Up to $128 million in federal funding would be available if the state builds a diversion system, or about half that if the state pursues other water projects in the region.

While it’s unclear how much the water would cost consumers in southwestern New Mexico, critics remain concerned the price tag of diverting the water will far outweigh what federal subsidies are available and result in skyrocketing water bills.

Brooks’ and Propst’s claims are similar to those voiced by Norm Gaume, the former director of the commission. Gaume and others have been critical of the commission, saying the planning process was shrouded in secrecy and that the outcome was predetermined.

The Bureau of Reclamation responded to Brooks and Propst’s letter, saying its environmental studies will include a review of the underlying assumptions and data used by the commission.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com


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