The NMAA tracked a number of bills and memorials during the 2013 legislative session. Below is an overview of the acequia funding and water highlights that took place, followed by our bill tracker.
Acequia Funding at the 2013 Legislature. NMAA acequia budget priorities were focused on the basic needs of acequias to improve irrigation efficiency with infrastructure repairs and to protect water rights. Based on the priorities outlined by NMAA leadership, our emphasis was on infrastructure funding and other funds related to adjudication of water rights. NMAA made significant gains in HB 2 which was sent to Governor Martinez before the end of the session:
- $1.9 million was restored in recurring funding for the Acequia Program at the Interstate Stream Commission (from an initial budget recommendation of $1.0 million). Representative Lucky Varela and the House leadership in addition to several bipartisan House members supported this program. Part of this effort was also to change the 80-20 cost share to a 90-10 cost share to make the program more accessible to acequias. Language was also added requiring that the $1.9 million be set aside specifically for acequia projects and that the ISC has to report to the Legislative Finance Committee and Department of Finance and Administration on expenditures from this fund.
- $100,000 of recurring funding was added to the base budget of the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund thanks to Senator Carlos Cisneros who serves as Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Cisneros and Representative Bobby Gonzales carried companion bills, HB 9 and SB 111 for the ACDF. The fund provides resources for legal defense to regional acequia associations involved in active adjudications around the state. The base budget had been reduced in recent years because of across the board budget cuts and this helps to restore part of the original base budget. With this amount, the ACDF base budget will be roughly $600,000 per year.
Capital Outlay: The State Legislature had $228 million in Severance Tax Bond proceeds to appropriate and $128 was allocated for statewide projects while $100 million was allocated by state legislators to local projects. Out of the $100 million allocated for local projects, acequias received $1.47 million in SB 60 (Cisneros). The list can be found at www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/BillFinderCO.aspx
Acequias are urged to contact Governor Susana Martinez to support funding these critical acequia projects. The number is 505-476-2200. She has until April 5th to act on the bill.
Water Highlights at the 2013 Legislature. Looking back on the 2013 session, water was a topic of great interest but not one of consensus. Judging by the number of bills addressing water issues, there was a heightened awareness about water and how it should be managed or regulated. Also, the number of capital outlay requests relating to water projects was substantial with requests ranging from rural water systems to major new pipelines to acequia projects of all sizes.
Water Bills, Memorials, or Agency Funding that Passed: On a positive note, the State Legislature provided $400,000 (SB 481, Smith) in HB 2 funding for the Interstate Stream Commission to update regional water plans around the state. Water planning received broad support during the legislative session because most areas of the state are in severe drought and several policymakers recognized the need for greater planning and mitigation of drought conditions. The legislature passed a memorial (HJM 33, Garcia Richard) that recognizes the importance of return flows of upstream diverters, such as cities, to the downstream agricultural water users. Another memorial (SM 6, Martinez) requested federal agencies to work toward rehabilitation of the Santa Cruz dam. NMAA also supported two other bills that passed; SB 479 and SB 480 (Wirth) require that certain subdivision plat approvals be contingent upon water availability based on a determination by the Office of the State Engineer.
Water Transfers: Several other water bills relating to water transfers generated discussion and debate but ultimately did not make it through the legislative process. NMAA supported HB 397 (Tripp) which would have required that incomplete applications for water appropriations or water transfers be rejected by the State Engineer but it only made it through its first committee. Also, SB 563 (Beffort) sought to require that the State Engineer make a finding on the impact of a water transfer out of a Critical Management Area in considering a water transfer application. This bill passed two committees in the Senate.
Water Quality: Other bills addressed water quality. NMAA supported HB 136 (Egolf), requiring disclosure of fracking fluids, HB 286 (Chasey and Sanchez), which would have updated penalties in the Oil and Gas Act for contamination of groundwater, and HB 335 (Egolf and Sanchez) which would have required groundwater monitoring for oil and gas wells. Only HB 286 made it to a House vote and it failed by a narrow margin. NMAA, along with the NM Association of Counties and several others, opposed SB 483 (Cisneros) which would have preempted county government from any regulation of oil and gas activities, and in response, he withdrew the bill.
Water Management: Several bills addressed water management by the State Engineer. HB 558 (Bandy) and SB 529 (Cervantes) would have amended state statute to attempt to address questions about what information the State Engineer would use for priority administration. SB 494 (Cervantes) sought to clarify in 72-2-9.1 that OSE rules should enforce Article 16 of the state constitution. Neither of these bills passed their first committees. One very interesting memorial was SM 90 (Smith) which requested the State Engineer to develop a list of water claimants and priority dates on the Rio Grande to give policy makers an idea about the practical impact of priority administration. On the last day of the session, the memorial was waiting for a hearing in its first committee. SB 440 (Cervantes) sought $120 million to augment and conserve water in the Lower Rio Grande. The original bill was amended after concerns raised by the State Engineer and Attorney General that the legislative findings were detrimental to New Mexico in ongoing litigation with Texas. The amendment removed the legislative findings and it moved forward as an appropriation bill only.