The 2023 60-day legislative session adjourned March 18. How did the need for transformative change in New Mexico's management of its public waters fare at the 2023 Legislature?
The Water Advocates and others have
Several potentially transformative bills passed, including the regional Water Security Planning Act. Development of the water planning concepts now codified by this Act was a major Water Advocates focus throughout 2022. The Water Security Planning Act passed both legislative chambers and all committees without a single dissenting vote.
The water agency funding and its allies are focused on encouraging legislators to work for us–the people– to pass important water legislation, and fund New Mexico’s water management agencies. The legislature and our Governor must increase our water agencies capacity to do the jobs they already have and address new challenges.
The Governor’s proposed budget includes substantial funds for water management and projects. That’s great! However, the Governor’s budget all but ignores the fact that our state water agencies do not have the capacity to productively spend it. We must persuade the Legislature to increase the capacity of our water agencies to proactively protect our water.
The 2023 Water Security Planning Act
SB337, the Water Security Planning Act is transformative legislation to replace the outdated 1987 regional water planning statute. The bill implements a unanimous recommendation of the State Engineer’s 2022 Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force--prepare science-based regional water resilience plans, focused on equity, to ensure we know, what water infrastructure, policy, and related activities we need for equitable governance of our public waters so future generations of New Mexicans can sustain their lives.
The Act authorizes the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to design and carry out the water security planning program within a the Act's new statutory framework. The bill says that ISC implementation of the Act is dependent upon appropriations made by the Legislature for that purpose.
Water Agency Capacity Limitations Are a Barrier to A Better Water Future for New Mexico
We have too many unfunded mandates. Our state water agencies don't have the capacity to do the jobs they already have been given, much less the capacity to take on new challenges. So implementation of the bill requires separate legislative appropriations for that purpose.
The Governor's 2023 Executive Budget includes $283 million in special appropriations for a variety of good, designated purposes. Those include $6 million for Interstate Stream Commission use over the next three years for water planning.
The Governor's budget would limit use of the $6 million to 1) the five-year update to the State Water Plan, and 2) implement the Governor's 50-Year Water Plan.
The Governor's 2023 Executive Budget includes only five new staff for the OSE and ISC. The agencies current staff doesn't have the capacity to put the new funds that the Governor's budget is requesting to use.
We must persuade the Legislature to authorize a big increment of agency capacity annually for the next several years. We also must persuade the Governor to allow that.