Proposed state budget includes millions for water projects

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SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s the “year of water” at the New Mexico State Capitol.

That’s according to some state lawmakers who believe the state Legislature is taking a more serious look at decreasing water supplies across the state.

“What climate change and drought has done is forced us to deal with less water,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe).

Wirth says in his 19 years as a state legislator, he’s never seen such an increased attention on water.

“Everyone’s focused on water, when, when it’s when we’re in drought, and then we have a good snow year, like it looks like we have this year and the pressure kind of goes off,” he said.

Wirth highlights several proposed investments in the state budget. Those include:

  • $900,000 for the Interstate Stream Commission
  • $7.5 million for the state’s strategic water reserve.
  • $85 million for middle and lower Rio Grande Projects
  • $100 million for the state’s Water Trust Fund.

Wirth says the investment in the water trust fund is likely the first since 2007.

“If you don’t have certain things in place, you’re just not going to be able to handle what’s coming at you,” said State Representative Susan Herrera (D-Rio Arriba County).

Herrera highlighted the recent passage of Senate Bill 1 – which would allow small, local authorities to combine and work together to improve water systems. Lawmakers say the partnership between Albuquerque and Bernalillo County’s water systems is a good example of what could happen in other parts of the state according to the bill. Herrera says improving the state’s aging water infrastructure is a major step towards using water to its full potential.

“I think generally the community understands we have less water, so we have to do things differently than we did” said Jason Casuga, CEO and chief engineer for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

Casuga says he’s optimistic about the increased attention on water supplies in the Roundhouse and believes there’s not time to waste when it comes to addressing ongoing drought conditions.

“It’s a complex discussion. And I do think you’re seeing a lot more energy go into trying to understand what’s going on and how to support it,” he said. “It may not be the homerun, but I think it’s going to be definitely a really strong step in the right direction.”

Casuga says the recent snowfall in New Mexico will likely lead to healthy runoff in the spring, but he insists the Rio Grande is still suffering from drought and could experience dry conditions during the hot summer months.