In the summer of 2020, after five years of fighting and close to $15 million dollars spent trying to drain the Gila River, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham pulled the plug on the Gila River Diversion Project. This effectively freed up 80 million from the Mexico Central Arizona Project (NM CAP) Entity River Diversion Project to be used on other projects. The state and conservation organizations felt the NM CAP Entity failed miserably as overseer of the project. The March passing of House Bill 200—Water Trust Board Projects and N.M. Unit Fund—in the State Senate, ousted the NM CAP Entity and made the New Mexico Water Trust Board, an advisory board under the New Mexico Finance Authority, the overseer of the $80 million remaining in the trust.

“The CAP Entity has wasted many years and millions of dollars on a wild goose chase that has led to nothing of value for our communities,” said Alicia Edwards, Grant County commissioner for District 3. “It’s to reconsider the process used in deciding how to spend the remaining $80 million in the N.M. Unit Fund and do everything we can to ensure it’s spent on projects that will conserve water and deliver jobs to our people.”

New wells and infrastructure needed in the southern part of the state will take all of the $80 million and a lot more. There are already at least $123 million in Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan (ICIP) identified water project proposals/needs that could use the funding. “New Mexicans deserve to have confidence that the project evaluation for the expenditure of millions of dollars will be done with professionalism, competence and expertise. We can now avoid the obvious conflicts of interest that would have occurred without this bill. We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Senators Stewart and Correa Hemphill as well as Majority Leader Wirth,” Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild, told The Paper

The $80 million must be used in Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna Counties. Multiple ICIP projects already await in the four counties. In Catron County, the Quemado Lake Water Association needs a water tank and new well for $1.6 million. In Grant County, the Hanover Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association needs a new well, water line extensions in Fierro and Santa Clara, a water tank and conversion of wells to solar power at the cost of $3.5 million. In Hidalgo County, Lordsburg needs to drill a new well, rehab the old well and effect water line improvements to the tune of $10.6 million. The New Model Ditch Association needs canal improvements for $1.3 million. Deming, in Luna County, needs effluent reuse storage and irrigation improvements for an estimated $10 million. And for the Hurley Well, Grant County Regional Water Supply Project needs to complete an intercommunity water supply pipeline between Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley and to develop a well at Grant County Airport for around $15 million.

 “Communities have been waiting for more than a decade to access this funding for critical water supply projects. It’s time to stop the waste of millions of dollars on a failed Gila diversion project and move forward with rapid and efficient disbursement of funding to priority water projects in southwest New Mexico,” said Allyson Siwik, executive director of the Gila Conservation Coalition.

The Grant County Regional Water Project has been a priority for Grant County for many years. When the town of Silver City adopted its 40-year Water Plan in 2006, it identified a need to find out if there were any additional water rights the town could acquire in the near future. The nearby town of Hurley owns no water rights and only had an agreement with the Freeport-McMoRan Chino Mines Company to provide water to the townsite and North Hurley through EOY 2018

In 2006 Grant County, Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley formed the Grant County Water Commission to work collaboratively to develop a sustainable water system that would benefit nine colonias and 18,444 households. Under the New Mexico Finance Authority, the Colonias Infrastructure Project helps certain communities in southern New Mexico that lack basic infrastructure and financial resources for the planning and development of infrastructure to improve the quality of life and encourage economic development.

An option identified to satisfy Hurley’s water needs was 193 acre-feet of water near the Grant County Airport owned by Silver City. In 2010 the town of Silver City completed a water model of the Mimbres Water Basin from the Grant County airport north to the town’s well fields northwest of Tyrone. In 2015 the town applied for 750 acre-feet of recharge credits per year of the effluent discharge from the town’s wastewater treatment plant north of the airport.

Phase one of the four-phase project—a well and pipeline for Hurley—has run into some challenges. The project requires additional funding to drill a well that is sufficiently productive as the flow was much lower than anticipated levels. It also needs to update the preliminary engineering report in order to proceed with the next phases and then secure funding for design and construction. “Water projects are a priority for me because it’s about meeting our most basic needs. Water is our livelihood, and we need water for housing, health, etc. And we cannot create economic opportunities in our communities without water,” Executive Director of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Priscilla Lucero told The Paper.

There is no one currently on the New Mexico Water Trust Board who represents the southwest region of the state. Lucero has been suggested by a number of elected officials at the county and state level as a candidate for the Water Trust Board position. Lucero has 34 years of experience in working with water associations, municipal water systems and acequias/ditch associations. “I have been involved in developing their Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plans and have worked with funding sources such as Community Development Block Grant, Colonias Infrastructure Fund, USDA Water and Wastewater Colonias Program and the Water Trust Board. If I was offered the position, I would be honored to represent Southwest New Mexico,“ Lucero said.

This story is a staff report from The Paper.