by Matthew Reichbach, New Mexico Political Report

The next major water project in New Mexico could be diverting the last free-flowing river in New Mexico, the Gila River.

New Mexico Voices for Children became the latest group to criticize the diversion, saying the amount of money spent on it could better be spent in other ways in the state, citing a potential $1 billion cost.

The cost of a diversion plan are highly debated. Some say that it would cost $330 million, others that it would cost $1 billion.

When the Interstate Stream Commission voted to move ahead on the diversion, opponents of the plan pegged the cost at between $575 million and $1 billion.

No matter the exact cost, it would be a massive project. Environmental reporter Laura Paskus reported for the Santa Fe Reporter in 2014 that the project would divert the water into reservoirs, then pipe it nearly 75 miles across the Continental Divide to Deming, New Mexico.

“Water is a precious resource, but there are better, smarter and more cost-effective ways of meeting the state’s water needs,” Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of the child advocacy group, said in a statement on Thursday. “Our children are also a precious resource, but we continue to allow them to rank at the bottom of the nation in well-being. That is unacceptable.”

Garcia’s statement came as the group released a report (pdf) criticizing the diversion.

The diversion would be partially funded by federal money. The New Mexico Voices for Children Report says that under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, New Mexico could either receive $100 million for a diversion project or $66 million for water conservation projects in the Gila River Basin.

A handout to the state legislature from a group opposing the diversion put the federal subsidy at $128 million for diversion, as does Paskus’ reporting.

New Mexico would spend hundreds of millions on the project under any of the estimates.

This is why New Mexico Voices for Children says money should be spent elsewhere, including an estimated $933 million for drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years.

From the report:

We call on Governor Susana Martinez, her appointed Interstate Stream Commission, the newly formed New Mexico unit of the Central Arizona Project (NM CAP Entity), and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reject and abandon the Gila River diversion project and move towards implementing sustainable and cost-effective alternatives— including more urgent and achievable water security projects—to protect New Mexico families.

Critics have also said that the proposal would not provide enough water to be worthwhile for the state.

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