Staffers with the Legislative Finance Committee will present a critical report to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursdayafternoon that identifies the need for the state to eliminate the lack of coordination and fragmentation that exists amongst the state’s numerous water programs.
There was more than $1 billion in grants awarded to at least eight water programs throughout the last 12 years. About $71 million of that had to be given back to the federal government by the New Mexico USDA Rural Utilities Services because local governments could not match funds for the grants. Also, in 2013, another $37 million of federal grants remained unspent by the New Mexico Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the highest in the nation for water projects.
In addition, the LFC report points out that many of the state’s various water entities are competing for the same grants and loans and undermine each other’s efforts. This restricts the number and quality of applications and discourages many communities to apply for loans.
“Considering the extreme drought situation that most of New Mexico is experiencing today, and with no relief in sight, it is critical that we effectively coordinate our efforts to get the most out of our money to fund water projects,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-29-Bernalillo & Valencia). Senator Sanchez is sponsoring a bill create a mechanism to prioritize the planning and financing of water projects and implement the state’s water plan.
Governor Susana Martinez has proposed to designate 60 percent of capital outlay funds in 2014 to water projects with no details or plan, frustrating many legislators. The LFC report is now more pertinent that ever if the state is going to effectively use the money available for water projects.
“We should not be playing political games with water in New Mexico,” said Senator Peter Wirth (D-25-Santa Fe), who has championed many water measures during his legislative career.