ALBUQUERQUE — A summer and fall of cool, pounding rains have not changed the arid landscape of New Mexico.
Part or all of the state has been in drought since 2000, state climatologist Dave DuBois said Thursday. He was among the first speakers at the 58th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.
Even this year's gully washers did not reach all the state. Lea and Hidalgo counties, at opposite corners of the southern border, missed most of the rainfall, DuBois said.
Gov. Susana Martinez, in a statement broadcast to conventioneers at the Embassy Suites hotel, said New Mexico was in its worst drought in 118 years.
She said she would ask the Legislature to allocate another $2 million for research on water problems when it begins its 30-day session in January.
The money would go the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, which Martinez said would work in concert with the state's universities and four-year colleges.
"The water challenge facing our state also provides the opportunity for us to be pioneers in innovative water research, planning and management," Martinez said. The institute, at New Mexico State University, "must play a key role if we are to succeed," she said.
Its areas of study include desalination, water quality and water supplies.
Martinez was not alone in suggesting that a pioneer spirit could help solve water problems.
One conventioneer said recent American history showed that fresh thinking could overcome perceived shortages of natural resources. An example was icy North Dakota's emergence as a hot spot for oil and gas production.
Along with money for research, Martinez also will pursue a $112 million proposal that she said would combat water shortages and improve public structure for water systems.
Her idea is to spend 60 percent of the money available next year for capital construction on water projects.
Martinez said her proposal would give priority to projects in communities "that are in danger of going dry or struggling with poor water quality."
She said improving water systems also would improve economies.
New Mexico's 112 state legislators advocate each year for capital construction projects in their districts, Their proposals typically are not targeted toward any one theme, but seek to fund projects ranging from roads to public buildings to fire protection.
The governor has veto power over items in the capital budget. But she would need help from lawmakers in devoting the lion's share of the money to water projects.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898 and email@example.com. Follow him @MilansNMreport on Twitter. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.