News Coverage

02 December 2013

LAS CRUCES SUN NEWS: Father Jesus Martinez: A moral obligation to preserve Gila River

Category: News Coverage

By Father Jesus Martinez for Las Cruces Sun News

I am the parish priest of Santa Rosa de Lima in Las Cruces, and I believe that our community must speak up to preserve the Gila River. Recently, a group of our parish's youth took a trip to hike along the Gila River and understand the threats to the river and its habitat. We learned that the Gila River is the last natural and free flowing river in New Mexico, and is a tremendous resource providing water to irrigate farms and ranches, a home for wildlife, and a place for people to enjoy the beauty of God's creation.

Yet, the Gila River could become forever altered by a proposal before Governor Martinez's New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to build a large-scale diversion reservoir and pipeline from the river to Deming or Las Cruces.

Along with the youth from my parish, I strongly oppose a diversion project on the Gila River. Our faith calls on us to protect God's creation from destruction or contamination. From the beginning God created a clean, intact world. Genesis 1:31 says, "God looked at everything he had made and indeed, it was very good."

We have a moral obligation to preserve the natural landscape of the Gila River. It is important for all of us to enjoy places largely untouched by human hands, as exploring the wilderness is one of the ways we are able to take a break from the stress of modern life and connect with what truly matters. Taking my parish into the outdoors for celebrations of mass and community picnics has been a wonderful way to re-energize our spirits. I encouraged the youth from my parish to go on this outing because I wanted them to experience the peace that can be found in the great outdoors. For many, this was their first time camping and hiking in our state's beautiful wilderness. They returned speaking enthusiastically about the beauty of the river, its natural surroundings and the wildlife they encountered.

The youth also returned with a sense of responsibility that they must care for the Gila River. As one young woman in my parish so eloquently expressed, "God gave us this river and forest to take care of it, not to destroy it." We are called to not only enjoy the beauty of nature, but to take responsibility for its care as stewards of God's creation. We can be good stewards of the Gila River by choosing alternative plans that would conserve and provide the water our region needs for generations to come. Not only will a diversion and reservoir alter the natural landscape of the Gila River, but it would hurt the wildlife that call this river home and could result in less water for the Gila River in the long-term. If we are truly to be stewards of God's creation, we must consider the long-term impact of a temporary solution to our region's water scarcity. Over the long-term, this river diversion project won't help our water supply problems in severe droughts because we won't be able to use the river water if it drops below certain levels.

Sadly, the Gila River is already flowing at historically low levels and a diversion project would only reduce it further. Even the low water levels of the river, recently increased by rain and flash flooding, impressed the youth. Many of them commented that they have not seen a real river in a long time because the Rio Grande in Las Cruces is rarely flowing with water. We may live in a dry region where water is a precious resource, but that should not mean that our children rarely see or experience a healthy river and the wildlife it supports. Neither they, nor I, want to see our state lose another beautiful, free flowing river and important source of water in our state. Through conservation and careful management, we can preserve the Gila River's natural beauty, wildlife, and water now and for the future.

Our youth are the ones who will gain or lose the most from whether or not we choose to seek alternatives to a diversion project on the Gila River, and they have taken the lead in speaking up for the Gila River at the New Mexico Legislative Interim Drought Subcommittee that met in Las Cruces earlier this month. In following their example, I encourage Governor Martinez to be a good steward of our natural resources by protecting the Gila River.

Father Jesus Martinez is the priest at Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church.  

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