Bills We Support

Synopses of the Bills

SB1  Regional Water System Resiliency

Sponsor:  Senators Peter Wirth, Liz Stefanics, Susan K. Herrera

“Collaboration between small drinking water and wastewater systems serving adjacent communities—ranging from informal to formal arrangements—can help them overcome the economies of scale that larger systems take for granted.” *

The Regional Water System Resiliency Act would authorize such formal arrangements. The bill provides a legal framework that allows small drinking water and wastewater systems serving adjacent communities to voluntarily form regional water authorities.

Many types of small water and wastewater systems could form a regional water authority. Founding entities could be municipal or county water utilities, water and sanitation districts, water and natural gas associations, water user associations, non-profit corporations, public improvement districts, or mutual domestic water consumers associations.

A Regional Water Authority would be a political subdivision of the state, governed by a Board of Directors. Each small system would be represented initially by a director appointed by the small system, and subsequently by a publicly elected director from a district including that system.

An authority would:

  • Own, regulate, supervise, operate, and maintain the infrastructure and assets of the systems that transferred to regional water authority ownership
  • Employ an executive director who may employ and retain the necessary staff
  • Centralize financial matters, including billing customers
  • Establish water and wastewater service rates
  • Apply for federal and state funding assistance
  • Generally, realize economies of scale

Many small water systems across New Mexico struggle to provide safe drinking water and reliable wastewater treatment. Certified water and wastewater operators are hard to find.   Volunteers and board members are aging out with no younger replacements. Some small systems cannot properly operate and maintain their infrastructure. Their business and financial systems may not function well.  They may not have the capacity to plan upgrades and replacements, get them designed, secure financing, and get them built. They buy duplicate equipment. It’s common for state and federally funded infrastructure to fall into disrepair long before the end of its intended life.

* State Engineer’s Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force Dec 2022 report.  The task force also recommended legislation that drinking water and wastewater finance programs prioritize and incentivize regional collaboration.  Click here for the full report. Click here for a two-page summary of the report.

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SB57  Water Trust Fund

Sponsor:  Senator Peter Wirth

Senate Bill 57 appropriates $250 million from the general fund to the water trust fund, which, according to the Water Project Finance Act, may only be used to make an annual distribution to the water project fund.

The Water Trust Fund provides grants and loans to political subdivisions of the state for water projects authorized by the Legislature. Eligible water projects pursuant to the act include (1) water storage, conveyance, and delivery; (2) implementation of federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 collaborative programs; (3) restoration and management of watersheds; (4) flood prevention projects; and (5) water conservation or recycling, treatment or reuse of water.

This bill would help implement the State Engineer's Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force directly related action recommendation.  Click here for a two-page fact sheet including the Task Force recommendation

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SB58  Interstate Stream Commission Members

Sponsor:  Senator Peter Wirth

[ While we are awaiting a more explanatory synopsis, following is the formal bill header ]

An act relating to water; changing membership of the interstate stream commission; providing other terms of holding office on the commission.

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SB167  Strategic Water Reserve

Sponsor:  Senator Liz Stefanics

The Strategic Water Reserve is a pool of publicly held water rights, purchased and leased voluntarily from willing sellers and buyers and overseen by the Interstate Stream Commission. It was a major bipartisan proposal from the legislature to address New Mexico’s water crisis, but it has never been adequately funded.

The Reserve was created for two purposes:

  • To provide water for threatened or endangered species or to prevent the listing of future species; and
  • To help deliver enough water downstream so New Mexico meets the obligations outlined in our water agreements (interstate compacts) with neighboring states.

These two goals are important for New Mexico as we work to balance many water needs in a time of crisis. They also make financial sense for the state. Failing to meet legal obligations related to interstate water agreements or endangered species has cost the state more than $100 million in recent decades, and this risk only increases as river flows diminish.

The Reserve has never been adequately funded to make the impact we need, given the seriousness of our water challenges. To meet New Mexico’s water crisis, we must provide transformational funding of $25 million and the addition of at least one FTE dedicated to the Strategic Water Reserve in 2023.

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SB195  Water Protection Permanent Fund

Sponsor:  Senator Pete Campos

[ While we are awaiting a more explanatory synopsis, following is the formal bill header ]

An act relating to water infrastructure; creating the water protection permanent fund; creating the water protection fund; making appropriations ($158M)

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SBxxx  OSE Authority for Water Enforcement

The State Engineer’s activities to manage and preserve our current and future water security are hamstrung by, among other things, his inability ability to enforce the requirements of water rights and of water permitting rules.

At the present time the State Engineer must employ an arduous and time consuming path through the judicial system to cause compliant behavior.  This bill is designed to provide the State Engineer with authorities for enforcement similar to those currently available to the New Mexico Environment Department for enforcement of water quality requirements.

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SBxxx  Water Security Planning Act

New Mexico is faced with, but has not faced up to, important water resource limitations:  downstream delivery obligations, federally mandated requirements, and state-permitted water uses and authorizations that substantially exceed sustainable supplies, all in the context of a declining surface and groundwater availability due, in part, to rapidly changing climate.

Without action to address articulated problems, New Mexico citizens’ current and future water supplies as well as our pocketbooks are at risk. New Mexico must establish the institutional capacity to plan for its otherwise dire water future. Why establish a robust ongoing process for multi-level water security planning?

  • to create an orderly, well-founded prioritization for capital outlay projects
  • to enable effective use of AWRM by creating negotiated shortage-sharing agreements
  • to coordinate/optimize local, regional, and state reactions to climate-driven transitions
  • to evaluate and prioritize proposed infrastructure needs
  • to recommend modification to policies, regulations and/or statutes
  • to ensure decisions are based on sound science and hydrologic reality
  • to identify problems at the appropriate levels (community and regional) as they materialize
  • to propose, evaluate, and prioritize solutions for the identified problems

The existing regional water planning statute 72-14-44 was passed in 1987 to address a threat of a neighboring state importing groundwater from New Mexico.  It does not provide for the challenges secure water challenges of the 21st century.  The 2023 Water Security Planning Act aims to update the statute and achieve the above goals.  Toward that end, the Act specifies:

  • Obligations for the Interstate Stream Commission to establish and support the program
  • Obligations for regional and community entities in water security planning
  • Requirements for supporting actual implementation of approved regional water plans
  • The topics that need to be addressed through a rule-making process
  • The topics that need to be addressed through establishment of guidelines

Click here for a legislative fact sheet.

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HB121  Water Right Lease Effective Date

Sponsors: Christine Chandler, Susan K. Herrera, Peter Wirth

House Bill 121 seeks to amend the language for water rights leases to ensure that actual water use under the lease is only allowed once a final permit for the temporary transfer has been issued by the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). Currently, water leases applications allow actual water use under the lease as soon as the legal notice for the transfer has been published. The change in timing in actual water use brings water lease transfers in line with other water rights transfers. This bill would be more effective with increased staffing of the Water Rights Division of the Office of the State Engineer, which would decrease the time it takes for the staff at the OSE to complete the analysis on each transfer and issue final permits. This change would eliminate the chance that water is used and then the transfer is either protested or denied by the OSE.

Opponents of this bill claim that this will hinder certain parties such as the NMDOT from obtaining water needed for road projects in a timely manner. However, if the road project is planned in advance, there should be plenty of time to obtain a full water rights transfer permit, and if something unexpected comes up that requires water immediately, a lease application can be filed under the emergency authorization process, which would allow water use to begin before the legal notice has been published and before the final permit has been issued.

Click here for a more extensive fact sheet.

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HMxxx  Rio Grande Compact Compliance

Sponsor:  Representative Matthew McQueen (invited)

A memorial clearly Identifying the seriousness of the risk of imminent middle Rio Grande compact delivery violation and requesting the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission to exercise their authorities and to closely coordinate their efforts so as to reliably avoid compact violation..

The memorial requests that the agencies' take multiple specific actions, focusing their efforts promptly on reducing consumptive uses in the middle Rio Grande region and enhancing transit of water through the region to Elephant Butte.

Click here for an article explaining the urgent need for preventative action.

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