Commentary: U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act that would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of water management across the state. The New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act is derived from policy recommendations generated by a variety of stakeholders from New Mexico including conservancy districts, farmers, ranchers, Tribes, municipalities, and others that collaborated to put together proposals to help New Mexico deal with future water supply challenges.
At the request of Senators Udall and Heinrich, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power considered the legislation in a hearing yesterday, helping to move the legislation forward. During the hearing, Senator Heinrich discussed the legislation and expressed the need and effectiveness of locally-driven solutions. He thanked witness Mike Hamman, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, for his leadership in addressing water supply challenges.
“I’m proud to work alongside Senator Udall in helping find smart solutions to address the state’s unique water supply and drought challenges. As all New Mexicans know, one or two wet years doesn’t mean the next drought isn’t right around the corner. We need to prepare now so that we’re ready for the next one. And we know that climate change means drier summers and longer droughts,” said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “We need locally-driven, long-term solutions to make the most of limited water supplies and ensure our communities have a secure water future, while supporting New Mexico’s rich environmental resources.”
“New Mexico has unique and complex water issues and it is becoming increasingly clear that future water supplies will not meet future demand in our state. Water is vital to our economy and our ability to grow, and we must find ways to get more out of every drop through cooperation, not conflict," Udall said. "That's why I worked with community stakeholders, farmers and ranchers, and water experts from around the state to create this drought relief legislation that will help New Mexico manage the water we have and prepare for future droughts. Together, we can become more efficient and effective in managing future water supplies so New Mexico can continue to grow. I thank Senator Heinrich for his partnership on this legislation and his work in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee — we will keep collaborating for policies and federal resources that move us toward that goal.”
Mr. Hamman expressed his support of the bill saying in his testimony that, “It will enhance agency authorities to allow for resources and operational flexibilities necessary to address changing climatic conditions in the desert southwest, and help agencies, irrigation districts, and other water users to better cope with the wide variations in water supplies while meeting the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.”
The New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to pilot a voluntary water acquisition and leasing program in certain New Mexico basins and to provide funding and technical assistance for the installation of modern water metering infrastructure in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, while giving more flexibility to water managers. These initiatives are designed to improve management of existing water allocations in order to enhance stream flow to benefit fish and wildlife, and improve water quality, on a voluntary basis, thus reducing the potential for water conflicts. Emphasizing collaboration benefits all New Mexico communities, farmers, ranchers, and businesses that depend on a secure water future. It will also add a cost-share waiver for drought-related projects under the WaterSMART program to ensure that small communities have access to funding for critical projects.
A copy of the bill is available here.