March 6, 2023

Acequia bills clear committees


La Canova Acequia near Velarde, New Mexico. Public domain.

Two bills focused on acequia projects, including recovery after disasters, passed committees on Monday.

SB 176 would increase the amount of funding that the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure fund receives annually from the Irrigation Works Construction fund from $2.5 million to $5 million.

HB 545 would allow the money from the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure fund to be used for disaster response, recovery and mitigation projects. It would also allow the money to be used as a local match for federal or state funds. It would also allow acequias to access the funds without having to provide a local cost share.

SB 176 passed the Senate Finance Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for debate. It is sponsored by senators Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, and Rep. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas.

Related: Water, wildfire bills pass Senate Conservation Committee

HB 545, sponsored by Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, expressed concerns that not requiring the acequias to provide a portion of the money would deplete the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund. But proponents of the bill say that requiring a local cost share means some acequias are unable to access the funding.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, said the lack of requirement for a local match was why she could not vote for the bill. She said acequias that are able to afford the local match should be required to have some cost share.

Montoya also expressed concerns that one or two acequias could deplete the fund if a big fire burns through an area. He asked about amending the bill to require acequias to pursue federal funding first if possible.

New Mexico Acequia Association Executive Director Paula Garcia said that there are processes in place to ensure that one or two acequias do not deplete the entire fund. She said HB 545 is intended to provide more flexibility for the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure fund.