A Gila Monster Stalks New Mexico’s Taxpayers

Errors of Enchantment was present for a hijacking yesterday. Fortunately, no laws were broken (we think), no one was hurt, and no ransom was paid.

The hijacking took place at the headquarters of the State Bar of New Mexico, in Albuquerque. The organization’s office was the setting for the first scoping meeting for the yet-to-be-written draft environmental impact statement for the New Mexico Unit of the Central Arizona Project.

If it poses the slightest potential risk to a single rock, plant, animal, or drop of water in the Land of Enchantment, rest assured, the state’s eco-left stands ready to oppose it. So it was no surprise that protesters showed up to rail against a “water diversion, storage, conveyance, and delivery system” to “allow for consumptive use of water from the Gila River, its tributaries or underground water sources in southwestern New Mexico.”

Give the Sierra Club’s ubiquitous Camilla Feibelman (pictured above, with bullhorn), who acted as majordomo, credit. She skillfully performed the tasks required of any professional alarmist-activist. Feibelman led the chanting (No dam diversion! Save our Gila!) and quickly nixed a proposed lyric by an eager but PR-unsavvy protester. (“ISC,” she advised, was not a useful acronym, since no one understands what the Interstate Stream Commission is.) She choreographed the positions of people and signs for optimal picture-taking, and emceed the procession of speakers. They did not disappoint. Michael Dax, from Defenders of Wildlife, peddled the debunked hypothesis that the planet is experiencing its “6th mass extinction.” Madeleine Carey, of WildEarth Guardians, announced that the future of the Southwest wasn’t extractive industries, but “ecotourism” and “lifestyle communities.” Once the speechifying was over, Feibelman helpfully numbered her instructions to the faithful. First, put your signs down before entering the building. Second, walk in together. Third, don’t sign in immediately. (That would take too long, and we’ve got a meeting to hijack.) Her final charge: “Please don’t get thrown out or arrested.”

Their photo op concluded, the greens marched inside — and took over the meeting.

Without requesting permission to have the floor, Feibelman emceed a bashing of the proposed Gila River diversion, leading off with the claim that the event’s open-house format was “meant to keep the public from learning.” (That’s news to Errors of Enchantment. We had a number of productive conversations with the officials present.) When her spiel was over, and the speakers who followed finished, Feibelman declared that it was time to “hand the meeting back over” to … the people actually running things. To their credit, the state and federal water bureaucrats in charge took the intrusion with aplomb. (And a fair amount of bewilderment.)

The most depressing facet of yesterday’s spectacle is that, eco-hysteria aside, the New Mexico Unit of the Central Arizona Project is a very dubious proposal. The claims by Feibelman and her allies about catastrophic environmental destruction and irreversible habitat loss are absurd. Even their bumper sticker (depicted below) is inaccurate — the project is not seeking to build a dam, but “diversion structures,” in the Cliff-Gila Valley and on the San Francisco River, near Alma.

But there are plenty of legitimate reasons for skepticism about the project. The first is the ability of the state and federal governments to oversee any type of infrastructure construction on time and on budget. Washington has set aside over $100 million for the Gila, but will it be enough? At the state level, the “diversion project has been beset by delays and drained over $13 million … without a clear project in place.” Once real work begins, who knows what complications and complexities will develop? (And court costs will proliferate. Lawsuit after lawsuit will be filed, courtesy Big Green’s very deep pockets.) And just how would 14,000 acre feet per year (that’s if the maximum amount is ever tapped) benefit the people of southwestern New Mexico? The region is hardly booming — Luna County has the highest unemployment rate in the state — and it’s far from certain whether access to a relatively small amount of additional water will spark an economic boom.

The Colorado River Compact, Globe Equity No. 59, Arizona v. California, the Colorado River Basin Project Act, the Central Arizona Project, Hooker Dam (never built), Connor Dam (never built), the Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement, the Arizona Water Settlements Act — even for experts, water management along the Gila River is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The issue is nearly a century old now, and promises to waste government’s time and taxpayers’ resources for decades to come.

The Land of Enchantment’s “environmentalists” surrendered their last molecule of credibility long ago. From electricity-generation to wildlife, air quality to fracking, their junk-science-driven hysteria has greatly harmed public discourse over some of the most important public-policy issues facing New Mexico.

But like the proverbial stopped clock, the eco-left can be right, for the wrong reasons. Scaremongering sound bites notwithstanding, the Gila River diversion could prove to be an aquatic version of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express or “Spaceport America” — infrastructure that costs a lot, for little (or nonexistent) benefits. Taxpayers, you’ve been warned. The next boondoggle may be on the way.

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