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."
The people of the desert Southwest have significantly felt the global water crisis. This paper explores the constant struggle for water rights by focusing on the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico, a community which plays a central role in understanding the issue of water shortage and disputes over water claims in the Southwest. The building of dams, a primary solution to the water crisis, also creates environmental and social impacts on the local cultures. This ethnographic study explores to what degree land conversion, as a result of dam building, has affected the Cochiti people’s native agricultural lands and practices. This paper incorporates perspectives of multiple stakeholders, including local farmers and ranchers, lawyers, forest rangers and members of the Cochiti community. The multiplicity of voices reveal the complexity of water sharing, as every party involved upholds different values and often one profits at the expense of others. The struggles of the Cochiti illustrate the difficulty in finding balance between environmental sensitivity, corporate interests and traditional cultural practices. Specifically, this project identifies the need for maintaining control of the water distribution, stabilizing the environmental issues resulting from the Cochiti Dam and preserving the cultural traditions of the Cochiti Pueblo. Exploring these issues on a local and global level is integral for the future of our environment and local cultures.