State Senator Shannon Robinson (D-17, Bernalillo) and Representative Mimi Stewart (D-21, Bernalillo) introduced the Water Efficient Technology act (WET) today in the New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives. The bill would raise $10-20 million annually to increase the productivity of the state's water supplies by fixing leaking pipes, funding infrastructure, water-efficient technology and other water projects. Cosponsors include Representatives Ben Lujan, (D-Santa Fe), Speaker of the House, Irvin Harrison, (D-McKinley, San Juan), Manuel Herrera, (D-Grant, Hildago), Antonio Lujan (D-Doña Ana), Jim Trujillo (D-Santa Fe), Ernest Chavez (D-Bernalillo), Edward Sandoval (D-Bernalillo), Roger Madalena (D-Bern, McK., R.A. & Sandoval), Nick Salazar (D-Mora, R.A., S.M., S.F. & Taos), Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), Joni Gutierrez (D-Dona Ana), Gail Beam (D-Bernalillo), Danice Picraux (D-Bernalillo).
"There is a huge need in this state for water conservation and an equally large need to restore natural areas like watersheds and riparian areas," said Senator Shannon Robinson (D-Bernalillo) "In my district, for instance, there's an arroyo that runs off an abandoned dump in the south Eubank area. That contaminated water is going somewhere so it should be a high priority project but I haven't found the $1.5 million to fix it. This legislation would provide money for those kinds of projects."
WET would pay to fix leaky, old pipes, chopping down salt cedar, reusing water and storing water in aquifers during wet years and pump it out during dry years. It would also pay for the state to acquire water rights for recreation and other public uses through a modest surcharge on water that would cost the average household in Albuquerque less than a dollar a month, about the cost of a bottle of water at the corner store. WET would provide New Mexicans with billions of gallons of more water without building more expensive and often controversial new dams, and pipelines.
"We cannot continue to let water pour out of leaky pipes and wasted in other ways when solutions are cheap and available. This bill increases our water supply in a sensible way before the situation gets truly dire," said Rep. Stewart. "We need to come to grips with the fact that our population will continue to grow but our water supply will remain the same. Common-sense projects like repairing leaky pipes, recycling water, and storing water underground during wet years will save water and taxpayer's dollars."
Leaky infrastructure wastes billions of gallons of water each year in New Mexico. Although it varies across the state, all towns and cities have room for improvement. Fixing infrastructure is a relatively cheap and easy way to expand water supply. Thirteen to 24 percent of Grants' water, for instance, went unaccounted for in the 1990's, according to the Northwest New Mexico Regional Water Plan.
"Seniors in New Mexico are very concerned about water - both quality and quantity," said Donald Dayton, AARP Representative, "and AARP supports this bill because, for a moderate fee, it would help small communities, in particular, and benefit recreational needs which many senior citizens enjoy."
Although parts of New Mexico have received record rainfall this winter, other parts continue to experience severe drought. Reservoir storage is still far below normal. Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs are now 11.2 percent of storage capacity, a 26-year low. In the Rio Grande basin, water storage is about one-third of what has been normal the last 30 years. In the San Juan basin, water storage in Navajo Reservoir is 76 percent of the 30-year normal.
"After the dry and warm weather the past few years, I am relieved as much as the next New Mexican that we are having a wet year," said Beth Bardwell, World Wildlife Fund. "But we all know this isn't going to last. We live in a desert that is prone to wide swings in weather and another drought - or the continuation of this one - is inevitable."
Many scientists have come to believe that the dry weather of the recent past is more normal than previously thought. The past several decades of comparatively wet weather have been an anomaly that could be ending. At the same time, population is expected to boom 35 percent in the next 25 years.
Hunting, fishing, bird watching and other wildlife recreation is enjoyed by thousands of New Mexicans each year and it contributes nearly a billion dollars to the state's economy. Trout, for instance, depend on cold water in places like the Rio Grande Box and Lake Heron. Without a sufficient water supply, water temperatures have risen and fishing has declined significantly.
"Anybody who hunts or fishes should get behind this bill. I've watched some of the best hunting and fishing spots in New Mexico all but dry up and WET would direct water for these activities, said Oscar Simpson, President of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. "Eagle's Nest reservoir, for instance, is a wonderful resource that has been hit hard by the drought because it has insufficient water rights. WET would enable the state to buy water for places like Eagle's Nest."
The governor's Invest New Mexico report projected a $2-5 billion dollar funding gap for water projects. This year, communities across New Mexico requested $500 million for water projects of which $65 million could be funded under the Governor's proposed budget. The Water Trust Board recommended funding close to $50 million in projects this year but had to turn down requests from communities totaling more than $10 million. These projects included water conservation and watershed projects that could be funded under WET.
"We can keep our heads in the sand or we can start taking action now and WET is the most logical place to start," David Harris, former Director of New Mexico Finance Authority agrees. "This funding mechanism is a significant way to assure the future of the state as it relates to the financing of future water projects," said Harris.
Copies of the bill can be found at http://legis.state.nm.us