Everyone knows water – clean water, enough water – is important. “Water is life” is used so often, it’s cliché. But in New Mexico, where our financial and other resources rarely meet our needs, the Legislature has generally pushed natural resources into the background.
This legislative session has been different. Natural resources are the focus of several innovative proposals, and water is at the forefront of some of the most important.
This session, state lawmakers are taking strong action to plan and build water system capacity important to the future of the state. Senate Bill 1 authorizes the consolidation of small local water or wastewater systems into regional water utility authorities, allowing systems to share costs of planning and maintenance. The House version the General Appropriation Act, which must still go through the Senate, includes $1 million for the program if Senate Bill1 passes. Senate Bill 337 would revamp regional water planning in the state and works as a companion to Senate Bill 1 in promoting greater effectiveness in the operation of water systems, making it more likely all New Mexicans have access to reliable, clean drinking water and safe wastewater systems.
In addition to $1 million for regional water systems if SB1 passes, the House version of the General Appropriation Act has nearly a half billion dollars for natural resource agencies and water and natural resource proposals. The Environment Department, Office of the State Engineer, State Land Office, and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department all would receive substantial increases to their operating budgets.
Among the special appropriations in the proposal are $65 million for projects in the Lower Rio Grande Basin to promote settlement of the lawsuit with Texas, $20 million for projects in the Middle Rio Grande Basin, and $7.5 million for the strategic water reserve, a critical tool in interstate stream compliance and endangered species protection. These investments will draw hundreds of millions of federal dollars to the state and allow New Mexico to make major progress in securing our water supply for the future.
Other one-time appropriations in the proposal include $5 million for the rural infrastructure revolving loan program to provide gap funding for water projects in small communities and $3.5 million to advance water reuse.
Critically, the bill includes $100 million for the conservation legacy permanent fund, a new investment fund that will generate money for natural resources agencies and projects, and $100 million for the water trust fund, an existing permanent fund that benefits water infrastructure projects. In both cases, we would be establishing a stable source of ongoing support for these often neglected programs.
I am particularly proud of my work on the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon relief fund, a $100 million appropriation for a zero-interest loan program for counties, cities and other small governments to replace and repair infrastructure damaged by the state’s largest fire. That bill is already law, giving immediate relief to the small communities hit hard by a natural disaster fueled by climate change and forest mismanagement.
I’m continuing to work on several bills that would increase the amount of money available to acequia and community ditch associations and education program, create a new Acequia Bureau within the Interstate Stream Commission, and fund a new fish hatchery near Amalia, which will help support cutthroat trout populations, which have been threatened by wildfire and flooding.
Natural resources might seem like back-of-the-line issue when we must also educate our children and protect them from abuse, make health care accessible to all and keep our communities safe. But clean air and water and healthy outdoor spaces are crucial to our well-being and the well-being of our children, and we must bring their protection to the front of the line.
Sen. Campos, a Democrat from Las Vegas who holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a masters’ in guidance and counseling, has been a member of the Senate since 1991 and a member of the Senate Finance Committee since 1997. Campos is also a member of the Legislative Finance, Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy, and Water and Natural Resources committees. He has served as the senator from District 8 in northern New Mexico since 1991 and has served as president of Luna Community College, superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools, and mayor of Santa Rosa.