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  • Thumbnail for Fighting for the Gila: Where the Old West Meet the New
    Fighting for the Gila: Where the Old West Meet the New by Goodman, Nathan Wool

    The Gila River - the last free-flowing river in New Mexico - is under threat. The Arizona Water Settlements Act (2004), meant primarily to adjudicate water disputes in Arizona, permitted the extraction of up to 14,000 acre-feet of water per year with (at most) $128 million of federal subsidies. The ensuing fifteen years of conflict touches on many of the central, paradigmatic issues facing resource management regimes in the evolving west. These themes are magnified by the sheer impracticality of the Gila extraction; the proposal is both unsound from an engineering perspective and mostly unnecessary given the meager water demands of the southwestern corner of the state. At what cost — economic, ecological, cultural, and otherwise — are we, as a society, still willing to invest in a “fatally flawed” project, when more cost-effective, conservation minded initiatives are available that would yield equal, if not greater, returns on water made available to the public? I examine how grassroots political organization has emerged in response to the proposed diversion, engaging in the central question of how new attitudes towards sustainability compete with the inertia of older, antiquated mindsets on western water development. It becomes a question of both policy implementation, as well as ways of navigating the multiple ways of knowing a “place” and resource management that respects the agency of the many different types of people who call the Gila valley watershed “home."