Gila River

From Debaura James, Silver City, NM

Silver City is located in the southwest corner of New Mexico, nestled into the foothills of the Mogollon Mountains that run through the first designated Wilderness area on the planet, the Gila Wilderness and Aldo Leopold Wilderness. Millions of acres of wild country make an alpine riparian ecosystem created by the three forks of the Gila River, the last wild river in the state. This area is my backyard.

Every year for the past two decades, I have had the privilege of introducing high school students to the immense beauty in their own backyard. I watch young people fall in love with this wild place, with the pristine waterways, with its deep canyons and majestic spruce and aspen covered mountaintops. Once this love affair has been sealed, a life-long reverence is born. These young people become the new stewards for this sacred land, young people who would have otherwise been oblivious to the beauty in their own backyard.

Now the Gila River is threatened. In recent months a collaboration has emerged between greedy capitalists and bureaucrats seeking to divert the Gila River to provide water for agribusiness. The diversion has been poorly planned according to environmental scientists who have carefully studied the proposal. Once diverted, the water would be held in a series of containment ponds and then transported across the desert to Deming and Las Cruces approximately sixty to one hundred miles from the diversion site. An inordinate amount of water is expected to evaporate before ever reaching farmland—by farmers who haven’t proposed to change their conservation practices (or lack thereof) from the ones that have used up the water in their own aquifer.

Equally important to the issue of wasting water in the desert during the worst drought in modern history is the issue of sacrificing the integrity of the last wild river in New Mexico. Fundamental to humans acting successfully to mitigate climate change and to invest in more sustainable lifestyles is awakening in the next generation a connection to the Earth. The only way these connections will occur is if we HAVE wild places with which to connect.

When human children play in a river on a hot summer day or grill a trout they’ve caught in the clear, refreshing water or been stunned by an eagle soaring overhead or bighorn sheep watering at the river side, their connection leads them to be fierce protectors of the planet. They have an investment in securing a safe and sustainable future for all of life.