September 28, 2022

Efforts are underway to craft legislation for regional water utility authorities

Kendra Chamberlain

With only a few months left before the beginning of the legislative session, efforts are picking up to draft legislation. 

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, hosted a meeting on Tuesday to discuss legislation that would enable the creation of regional water utility authorities similar to the ones that serve communities in the Lower Rio Grande area and Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

This is not the legislation’s first rodeo, as Herrera put it.

Wirth sponsored the Regional Water Utility Authority Act in 2019, but it died.

Currently, small water systems in the state have options like entering into joint power agreements or creating umbrella entities, but these don’t fully address the needs.

“I want to believe that timing is everything,” Herrera said.

She said she believes now is the time to get the legislation passed.

“We’re under a lot of pressure from the drought, from climate change as a whole and our utilities are really feeling it,” she said.

The group heard from Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority as well as the Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority as examples of existing agencies. Both were created through state statute and the current draft legislation is based on the Lower Rio Grande legislation.

The regional water authority allows the smaller systems to share resources, thus saving time and money. For example, representatives from Lower Rio Grande spoke about decreasing costs of audits because each individual system didn’t have to pay for a separate audit.

But some agencies are afraid that it means a loss of autonomy and some municipalities have also opposed the legislation.

“There’s a lot of fear out there,” Wirth said. 

He said the legislation will not require anyone to do anything that they don’t agree to first.

“I just think there’s been this sense that we’re moving in this direction. And for those entities that aren’t ready, they’re scared of that and they’ve had enough power in this building to stop the template bill,” he said.

Wirth said as the legislation is drafted they are considering having both a minimum and maximum number of connections a utility must have.

“To get this through, we may need to do it in steps,” he said.