On the Gila River in New Mexico, a “field of dreams” argument

From Brett Walton’s piece on a proposal to divert water from the Gila River in New Mexico (in the Lower Colorado River Basin), an old school argument for building western water infrastruccture:

Gutierrez does not believe that the unit cost for water — what a city or a farmer will pay for an acre-foot — is required information. He believes that contracts for the water before construction begins are unnecessary as well. “There’s already a need,” he said. “Once the water is available people will use it.”

Is this Field of Dreams assumption — that if the project is built, someone will pay for the water — sufficient for the commission to continue pushing for construction?

“That assumption is enough for me,” replied Gutierrez, who talks about investing the AWSA money and using the returns to help finance the project. “It may not be enough for the environmental community.”

The piece is interesting throughout.


  1. Walton picked up on the constant reminder Guttierez asserts; “I am a planner”. Clearly it’s a job title… not necessarily a profession requiring specific and rigorous education and training. It’s really a shame that someone who professes to be a planner doesn’t get that you can’t solve for “x” if you don’t have numbers (particularly hard numbers) occupying the other points in an equation.

  2. It seems far-fetched that Phoenix alone, population 2x of all New Mexico, would not block a raid on the Gila and Roosevelt Lake, all for the sake of bogus construction jobs in an obscure town in southwestern NM consisting of 3,628 families where the economy, to the extent there is one (20% unemployment Jan 2014), revolves like Ajo’s around gassing up and replacing broken windshields on Border Patrol vehicles.

    WM Hanemann 2002 provides a nice backgrounder on drivers behind the CAP, originally approved all the way to southwestern NM but of course not funded further the minute it reached Tucson. https://gspp.berkeley.edu/assets/uploads/research/pdf/cap.pdf

    “Why, then, were farmers such loyal supporters of CAP? Martin, Ingram and Lacy (1982) conducted a survey of farmers in the CAP service area to investigate this question. They found that the farmers did not expect to actually pay the rates prescribed in their contracts for CAP water. They were signing up for CAP water now in order to make sure that the project got built.

    Once it was built, past experience with federal water projects had shown that the Bureau of Reclamation would be willing to modify contracts to fit the farmers’ situation rather than holding rigidly to the original contract terms.

    Since the farmers would still have groundwater available as an option after CAP had been completed, they would be in a favorable position when bargaining with the Bureau and they felt that, in the end, they would be able to receive CAP water on their own terms.

    In short, the farmers were playing what Martin, Ingram and Laney called the water development game, and their readiness to contract for CAP water signaled a willingness to play, not a willingness to pay.”

  3. Even by the internal logic of 20th Century water development, a Gila Project makes no sense. There’s neither a need nor a source for this water, not to mention that it comes with a price that someone will have to pay. The local proponents of a diversion (not to mention the NMISC) will eventually face these essential facts; why not now?

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