The 2024 Legislature Must Think Water: Act Now!

Wake Up New Mexico. Collectively, we are asleep at the wheel.  We are overusing New Mexico’s limited water and draining and polluting irreplaceable groundwater. Our collective inaction puts our water security, and therefore our economic security, at risk.

Until the 2023 legislative session, the New Mexico Legislature had neglected water. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has expressed good intentions but not taken leadership, except for appointing Mike Hamman, a superb action, to be the State Engineer. State government is far from doing the essential jobs only state government can do that are required for good governance of New Mexico’s water in the 21st century.  

Since 2010, the Legislatures’ and Governors’ treatment of the state water management agencies has been worse than neglect. The agencies’ staffs were decimated through budget cuts, skilled personnel retirements, and prohibitions on filling vacancies. The stream of multiple State Engineers didn’t help. Those resources have never been restored to the Office of the State Engineer, the NM Interstate Stream Commission, and the NM Environment Department.

The 2023 Legislature may have changed that trajectory when it unanimously passed a regional water resilience planning law, restored the budget for 11 staff positions, and provided several large one-time appropriations for improved New Mexico water management and planning.   

The Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates call on Governor Lujan Grisham and the 2024 Legislature to keep the momentum and do more, much more:

  •  The State Engineer cannot effectively administer water in New Mexico without practical, enforcement powers against illegal water use, which is common in the Middle Rio Grande. Currently, the State Engineer must sue the illegal water user, which is highly impractical. The Governor and the State Engineer requested the Legislature provide the State Engineer with the same enforcement powers that the NM Environment Department already has. This essential bill was killed in 2023 by a state senator from the Lower Rio Grande who apparently wants New Mexico’s State Engineers to be unable to enforce state water law. The enforcement bill (2023 Senate Bill 380) is a very high priority.  We expect the Governor’s call for non-budget related matters in 2024 to include this bill, which the 2024 Legislature must pass.
  • New Mexico’s state water management agencies require more staff and recurring funding to do their jobs. Without resources, these agencies can’t help New Mexico protect its limited and shrinking water resources and adapt to water scarcity due to climate change. Twenty new positions for the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission per year for the next three years are needed to undo the last decade’s cuts and prepare for our more arid future. We urge Governor Lujan Grisham and the 2024 Legislature to authorize the budget for at least 20 positions.
  • The Legislature must provide funding that doesn’t quickly expire. The 2023 Legislature made several large appropriations for water, including $7.5 million for the Strategic Water Reserve, but required the money be spent in one year. Our water management agencies require both adequate staff and more time to make those dollars count.  For context, the Strategic Water Reserve law was passed in 2005. Total funding to implement the law from 2005 through 2022 was about one-half of the 2023 appropriation. 
  • The 2024 Legislature must fund full implementation of the 2019 Water Data Act.  The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources is New Mexico’s water science agency and was charged with overall responsibility for implementation of the 2019 Water Data Act.  This agency, which does a great job for New Mexico and has for many decades, created a program to implement the Act but has not been funded to do the work.  Among other uses, that data work is an essential prerequisite to implementation of the unanimously passed 2023 Water Security Planning Act.  

    Equally important, water management agencies named in the Water Data Act, including the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission, have not been funded to clean up and make publicly available the important water data they generate and maintain.  Some irreplaceable New Mexico water rights information exists only on shelves and in file cabinets full of paper.  Some of the State Engineer’s data, regarding domestic wells for example, is of such poor quality that staff are embarrassed to make the data publicly available. These agencies need dedicated staff and modernization of old obsolete information systems to clean up their data and databases to make them publicly available and useful for water management and planning.
  • In addition to the Strategic Water Reserve and the Water Data Act, the Legislature has failed to fund implementation the 2004 Active Water Resources Management program and water bank regulations as authorized by the 2003 Legislature, the 2003 State Water Plan Act, the Water Quality Act, the State Tribal Collaboration Act, and others.  The 2024 Legislature should remedy these failures to help protect New Mexico’s drying water future.

New Mexico’s future requires state government to do its part now!  Please contact your state senator and state representative to recognize our water crises and Act Now. Please consider volunteering with the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates to respectfully demand that our top state elected officials pass the laws and provide the resources required to adapt equitably to water scarcity and protect our water.

Water is Life; Without Water, there is Nothing!