February 4, 2023

Regional water utility legislation heads to Senate floor

A bill intended to make it easier for water utilities to create regional entities heads to the Senate floor after passing the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.

SB 1 is intended to increase water resiliency within New Mexico by helping small water systems reach economies of scale that will allow them to address issues with aging infrastructure and water quality. It is sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, and Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo.

Herrera joined Wirth in presenting the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Related: Legislation to help water utilities form regional partnerships advances

Wirth said the legislation would not require any water system to join a regional partnership, or regional water authority. It just makes it easier to do so.

Currently, there are two regional water authorities in the state—the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority. Both were created through legislation.

Herrera said she has probably more than 60 mutual water user associations within her district and the majority of them serve less than 300 households. She gave an example of Dixon, an unincorporated community in Rio Arriba County that has a population of less than 500 people. Herrera said there are five water associations serving Dixon.

To reach economies of scale, Herrera said water utilities need to have at least 300 households that they serve. That allows them to bring in enough revenue to hire an executive director, an accountant and an operator. 

Currently, many mutual domestic systems are run by volunteers, largely senior citizens.

Martin Lopez and Karen Nichols from the Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority said the regionalization helped the small systems that became incorporated into the larger entity address problems with arsenic levels in water. The Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority was created through legislation in 2009 and now includes 12 water systems that serve more than 16 colonias in Doña Ana County.

Nichols said the water authority has secured more than $79 million of funding since merging.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the 2009 legislation that created the Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority.