Water to be a priority during New Mexico’s legislative session

In her FY 2015 budget proposal, which will be considered during the 30-day budget session, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez proposes spending nearly $114.5 million on water-related activities, including $2 million to fund new water research through the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NMWRRI), $450,000 for water emergency relief and technical planning and $112 million for water infrastructure.

Gov. Martinez originally announced that she was proposing the expenditure of $2 million for water research and innovation in November 2013, saying, “The water challenge facing our state also provides the opportunity for us to be pioneers in innovative water research, planning, and management here in New Mexico, and the NMWRRI must play a key role if we are to succeed.”

NMWRRI, located at New Mexico State University, focuses on solving water issues in New Mexico, the southwest U.S. and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The expenditure of $450,000—which was proposed to establish funds to assist communities that run dry due to a water emergency and to provide technical assistance to help at-risk communities avoid these emergencies—appears to be a response to the situation faced by the Town of Magdalena when its well ran dry in summer 2013 and data showing that additional communities are vulnerable to similar water emergencies. Of the $450,000, the Dry Community Water Emergency Fund would receive an initial investment of $200,000 and could be replenished in increments of $200,000 by executive order, similar to how other emergency funds are replenished.  The Technical Assistance Planning fund would receive an appropriation of the remaining $250,000 and would be managed by the New Mexico Environment Department.

“Given the drought situation we currently face, it is imperative that the state have the authority to treat dry community events as water supply emergencies, allowing us to respond quickly to help residents and businesses cope in the immediate aftermath,” said Governor Martinez. “Furthermore, the only thing that stands between many small communities having clean drinking water and a water system that is not susceptible to failure is technical assistance funding that can be used to design and construct the right repairs to ensure a secure and sustainable water supply.”

Topping the headlines is the governor’s proposal to spend $112 million—60% of the capital outlay budget—on water infrastructure.

“Unprecedented drought, wildfires, and floods have put further stress on New Mexico’s aging water infrastructure, in communities large and small across the state. We have seen communities run out of water and our watersheds terribly damaged, and the threat of water shortage looms for many other communities across New Mexico,” said Governor Martinez. “While we cannot dictate the duration or magnitude of these crises, we can and must dictate our response. That’s why I am proposing such a large capital investment in water infrastructure throughout New Mexico.”

Expenditures from the $112 million would be prioritized to communities that are at risk of going dry or have poor water quality and to watershed and dam rehabilitation projects that would boost economic growth.

In response to a recent LFC report showing that water infrastructure projects are lagging because of the lack of coordination among the state’s water project funding programs and policies that discourage the use of loan money, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Bernalillo & Valencia) plans to file a bill that would centralize water project applications and coordinate the distribution of water infrastructure funding.

“I plan to file a bill specifically designed to assure that the state’s water system benefits as a whole by appointing one agency as a central point for all water project applications to go through in order to receive funds. This strategically coordinated application process will be overseen by a single entity to acquire and coordinate funds in ways that avoid what the LFC describes as wasteful duplication of effort. It also helps identify the state’s most dire water needs and helps lawmakers make sound decisions about where the monies need to be allocated,” said Sen. Sanchez.

While the bill would address the need pointed out by the LFC, Sen. Sanchez suggests holding off on the governor’s proposal to make a large investment into water infrastructure.

“While I am in favor of providing funds for water projects, I believe it would be in the best interest of citizens and the good of our state to assess the water issues as a whole and organize a way in which to be most effective,” added Sen. Sanchez.

In even-number years, New Mexico has a short 30-day legislative session dedicated to the state budget, issues raised by the governor in special messages to the legislature and bills vetoed in the previous session—which means the governor virtually holds all of the cards.  Without a special message from the governor authorizing legislation on that subject to be considered, Sanchez’s bill likely would be killed on a question of germaneness.

Written by Marta Weismann