August 4, 2016 - Laura Paskus

August 4, 2016
Laura Paskus

When I was a lad, and the Saturday morning radio broadcast of the comic strip based Archie Andrews was on, there was one thing I could count on: at one intense moment in the show, Archie Andrews’ father, exasperated beyond endurance by Archie and his high school friends, Jughead, Veronica and Betty would roar: “Enough is enough and plenty is too much.” It was a punch-line guaranteed to bring laughter..

But here’s a funny thing, as I was pondering the story of the Gila River, it occurred to me, Archie Andrews’ Dad’s climactic shriek was what this story is all about: enough is enough and moments of plenty can lead to decades of too much.

What’s enough? The Gila River.

It’s a mountain stream in southwest New Mexico, back east some might want to call it a creek, because as a river it’s on the small side.

But beautiful, — sometimes ambling across low rolling hills, sometimes steeply surrounded by close mountain slopes.  

You hear claims that it is “the last wild river in New Mexico,” but sometimes those same people will tell you it’s already not as wild as it once was. But if you look at it, fish in it, walk along it, or listen to it going by, you might be inclined to say, in an absolute sort of way: it’s enough.

Or not. For decades New Mexico State and Federal officials have dreamed of making the Gila better, or more valuable, as if they were the same thing.

When times were flush, those dreams got pretty expensive. When gas and oil prices, and state revenues from them, were high, a grand scheme was put forward for the Gila River, involving dams and reservoirs, above and below ground, and pipelines, — and sales — of Gila River water to dry towns to the South.

Nobody flinched when they were told just building out the plan would cost a billion dollars. And that’s with nobody counting the cost of say, 50 years of operation and maintenance.

But now, oil and gas prices remain very low, and revenues are falling short in the state budget by hundreds of millions of bucks. OK, so put that plan away, we can’t afford it.

What? And leave the Gila unimproved? And leave the water NM is legally entitled to take where it is, and leave a promise of Federal money on the table, and say the status quo is good enough? Not likely.

Part of the Gila’s problem is that Federal money. It was what made spending close to a billion of state money easier to do. But now there is no state money, and so, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, the state agency in charge of Gila River “improvement” went to their engineers and said what can you build us for what Uncle Sam will give us? Between $80 and 100 million.

What the engineers said was possible called the whole project into question.

Reading Room

Laura Paskus is an independent reporter and radio producer. She freelances for national, regional, and local media outlets and has worked as assistant editor of High Country News and managing editor of Tribal College Journal. Before becoming a journalist, she worked as an archaeologist and tribal consultant.

“Billion Dollar Gila River Diversion Off The Table” – New Mexico In Depth

“Gila diversion projects pared down for design” – Silver City Daily Press

“Board picks two Gila diversion projects” – Albuquerque Journal 

“Editorial: Downsizing Gila diversion project a reasonable choice” – Albuquerque Journal

“Federal approval of Gila River agreement triggers review” – Albuquerque Journal

“Regional water plans reveal sobering water future” – New Mexico In Depth

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