January 24, 2023

Legislation to help water utilities form regional partnerships advances

A bill that would allow two or more water or wastewater utilities to enter into an agreement to form a regional water authority passed the Senate Conservation Committee on a bipartisan 7-0 vote Tuesday morning. 

Democrats Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerillos and Rep. Susan Herrera of Embudo sponsored the bill.

Current law requires legislative approval for water utilities to become regional authorities.

Wirth said this legislation will not force utilities to enter into regional partnerships, but will make it easier for those that wish to do so.

Wirth spoke about a small mutual domestic system with about 25 customers that ran out of water and is now seeking to regionalize. 

He said drilling wells is not an option for the system because it is cost-prohibitive. A regional water utility authority can help by joining efforts to pursue water resources.

Related: Efforts are underway to craft legislation for regional water utility authorities

Herrera said water systems need about 500 customers before they can afford a staff and manager.

“Most of our systems are under 100 people and these are not people of wealth,” she said.

Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, spoke about the water systems in his district. He said that San Juan County tries to assure that “when possible we try to interconnect all these water systems.” 

He said that allows water from one rural water system to be sent to another water utility that is having problems.

“However they’re not legally organized,” he said.

Neville asked if the legislation would allow these water utilities to unofficially partner to assist each other.

Wirth said that the bill would allow that to continue and that Santa Fe County has also been working with places to increase cooperation and sharing.

He gave the example of the El Dorado Area Water and Sanitation District that agreed to allow the county to send water through their system to get to the community of Cañoncito.

Wirth said Senate Bill 1 gives those water systems the option to “memorialize and formalize” such agreements.

“The key thing is that nobody is going to be forced to do anything under this,” Wirth said.

It will now head to the Senate Judiciary Committee.