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.
Correspondent Laura Paskus traveled to the remote Gila Wilderness for the New Mexico PBS series “Our Land”, for an in-depth report on the battle over the Gila River. Once again, a proposal for a diversion on the southwestern New Mexico waterway has people who live along the river – and those who have other interests – trying to either save the river or reroute its waters to serve agricultural and business purposes. This story originally appeared on KNME, New Mexico’s PBS station. It is republished here as part of New Mexico In Depth’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story. See the Our Land series on the KNME You Tube channel.
A “rough cut” estimate of water needs in southwestern New Mexico presented to the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, or NMCAP Entity, back in June doesn’t tally up with other water studies for the region. And getting answers from the Interstate Stream Commission about the different estimates has proven impossible.
Tucked away in the southwestern corner of New Mexico, the headwaters of the Gila River pour out of mountains remote and wild. At least five other times in the past century, officials thought about taming or tapping its upper waters—then bumped up against the Gila’s unpredictability or inaccessibility. But the problems of the past haven’t dissuaded New Mexico officials from planning a new diversion of the Gila river. Nor are diversion project proponents deterred by predictions for a warmer, drier future. Some say that makes a diversion all the more necessary.
Silver City officials don’t want anything to do with a planned diversion on the Gila River—or the group of local governmental agencies that have agreed to plan, operate, and maintain the diversion. Instead, the city is focusing on conservation and efficiency.
Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency released two-page fact sheets about climate change in each of the 50 states. Drawing on sources like the national climate assessments, the fact sheets don’t have new or breaking information. But they do provide a good overview for citizens and decision-makers who might be thinking about the future. In New Mexico, for example:
In the coming decades, our changing climate is likely to decrease the flow of water in the Colorado, Rio Grande, and other rivers; threaten the health of livestock; increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires; and convert some rangelands to desert. The fact sheet also lays out basic information for New Mexicans about declining snowpack, agricultural challenges, wildfire, and impacts to tribal communities.
Climate change won’t just affect rivers and forests. It’ll have widespread impacts on communities and cultures. As parents, teachers, and community members, there’s a lot we can do to make sure all New Mexico’s young people are learning about climate change, the challenges the state is facing, and paths toward possible solutions.
Watershed ecologist Krista Bonafantine wants to reduce political discussions around climate change and just get to the science of the matter. She think it’s possible to do that with students, teachers – and the public – by focusing on changes in the places people live and care about, learning from the past, and using science to make better management decisions.