Slew of water bills to be introduced in session
State Rep. Bill McCamley, a Mesilla Park Democrat, is concerned that the rains and heavy snow over the past year have led people throughout the state to forget the harsh effects of drought.
"We get one year of good rain, and suddenly everyone is saying we don't have a (water) problem," McCamley said in an interview last week. "(If we) don't deal with it now, we will have a disaster."
Considering drought a "temporary condition" is dangerous for New Mexico because it undermines climate and tree-ring science that show limited water is the reality, he said.
McCamley is introducing a bill that would allocate $400,000 to the Water Resources Research Institute at New Mexico State University for a project studying how water use is measured. He believes this research could enable a farmer to understand how much water a given crop uses and therefore improve the irrigation system. The agricultural industry — which consumes 80 percent of the state's water — can be more efficient, McCamley said.
McCamley, along with state Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, also is sponsoring a bill to legalize and study hemp crops. A previous bill introduced by McSorley was passed by both houses of the Legislature last session but vetoed by the governor. McCamley is pushing the measure again because he believes hemp is a lucrative, water-efficient and untapped resource for New Mexico. He said the U.S. imports $600 million worth of hemp from Canada for products ranging from bath oils to speaker components, and New Mexico's economy should be benefiting from that market share.
"Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting — we say that all the time out West," he said.
The state has been embroiled for years in just such a fight with Texas over management of the Rio Grande. Attorney General Hector Balderas said earlier this week that more funding is needed to argue the state's claim to Rio Grande water, and he requested $3 million for the legal battle.
McCamley's measures are among at least 10 bills that will be introduced during the 30-day legislative session that seek to address the quality and infrastructure of the state's water system.
In addition, eight bills filed so far on issues such as agriculture, taxation, legal services and renewable energy bills address the state's water system indirectly.
At the start of the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Susana Martinez said she was proud of $89 million allocated for water infrastructure the previous year, and that the state should focus future infrastructure funds on transportation projects.
But many legislators say the state's water issues remain urgent and unaddressed.
"Almost all water systems are in need of (assistance)," said Sen. Carl Trujillo, D-Nambé, who is sponsoring a bill that would designate 10 percent of the state's water project budget to water infrastructure in small communities, like Tesuque.
"We are so far behind on capital improvements on water in this state," he said. "Everybody has a need for them, it is just a matter of how dire ones group's needs are for them over another."
Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, is sponsoring a bill that calls for $1.72 million from the state's proposed $6.47 billion budget for groundwater mapping in the northeastern region. "Water is an economic driver of our state," he said. "If we know where our water resources are, then we have a better chance to develop [them]."
Woods recalled a fellow rancher in Des Moines, N.M., who had a windmill on his property that cycled water year-round. When he had his water dated, he learned it was 7,000 years old. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, that indicates the water was pumped from a great depth.
"Eventually, we will pump all that out," Woods said.
Without understanding the age and regeneration rate of the state's water, he said, the "long-term viability of populations in our state" will remain unknown and at risk.
"We are short on money this year," he said, but "I have great hopes that they see the urgency of my project."
Many of the water bills are, in fact, labeled as "emergency" allocations.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, filed a bill seeking allocations for multimillion-dollar loans to manage "water, wastewater, water rights and solid waste projects" for 115 city buildings and school districts from Santa Fe to Farmington -- and she declared an emergency need for these funds.
Lundstrom also is requesting $6 million for the state's Indian water rights settlement fund.
Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, is seeking $1.8 million to finance improvements to drinking water systems across the state under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires states to meet basic health and safety standards for public tap water.
"As we have seen in California, if we don't deal with [water needs] now ... then when it gets really bad, we have to do horrible things," McCamley said. "Because without water, we don't have life."