Feds, New Mexico Take Next Step in Gila River Development Project

Published January 29, 2016

The U.S. Department of the Interior and New Mexico State water managers agreed to take the next step to develop the Gila River as a source of water for municipal and agricultural uses.

The Gila River is a 649-mile tributary of the Colorado River that flows through Arizona and New Mexico.

Supporters say the project is a vital part of supplying communities and irrigation districts in southwestern New Mexico with a new source of water. Before the project can proceed, extensive environmental and economic feasibility studies must be undertaken.

The 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act allocates an average of 14,000 acre feet of water per year from the Gila River to New Mexico. The act also grants up to $128 million in federal funding to New Mexico for it to build a diversion system, making water from the Gila available for use by cities and farmers in the region.

Need Questioned

Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a New Mexico-based public policy think tank, opposes the Gila River diversion plan.

“We understand the environmental angle, but our main concerns are financial,” Gessing said.

Gessing says the New Mexico nonprofit Voices for Children has produced a study arguing the diversion project will reallocate limited state resources from other worthwhile programs.

“We share some of their concerns about the cost of the project, although we have different ideas about what else to do with the money,” Gessing said. 

“Also, New Mexico, as with many Western states, needs to dramatically reform its water rights system in ways that respect free-market principles and cost/benefit realities,” Gessing said. “We think there is enough water, but proper allocation is problematic.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


“The Gila River Diversion: A Drain on Limited State Resources that Are Better Spent Elsewhere,” Voices for Children, October 2015: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/gila-river-diversion-drain-limited-state-resources-are-better-spent-elsewhere