Outgoing administration won’t talk about water plan, but gubernatorial candidates will

Anyone who is paying attention to the Rio Grande’s drying riverbed and dropping reservoirs or is worried about declining groundwater levels probably has something to say about how the state might handle current—and coming—challenges. And they currently have their chance. The public comment period for New Mexico’s draft water plan ends next week. And while […]

Outgoing administration won’t talk about water plan, but gubernatorial candidates will

Anyone who is paying attention to the Rio Grande’s drying riverbed and dropping reservoirs or is worried about declining groundwater levels probably has something to say about how the state might handle current—and coming—challenges. And they currently have their chance.

The public comment period for New Mexico’s draft water plan ends next week. And while top state officials wouldn’t speak about the plan, New Mexico’s gubernatorial candidates were eager to share their thoughts about water, drought and water planning in the state.

The draft plan released earlier this year by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission examines statewide water issues through the lens of 16 regional water plans the ISC developed with input from local governments, nonprofits and stakeholders.

The New Mexico State Water Plan Statute requires the ISC review its state water plan at least every five years.

This plan is the first update since 2003.

According to the draft plan, the top concern is “insufficient water supply.” That’s followed by vulnerability to climate change, water management, the need to better understand water resources, water quality, and water infrastructure and its maintenance. Throughout the entire state, all of the 16 planning regions are projected to have less than 75 percent of the water they need to meet demands in 2060 under current drought forecasts, and four of those are projected to have less than 20 percent of the necessary supply.

Groundwater overpumping is a problem, particularly in eastern New Mexico, where water levels are declining in the Ogalalla/High Plains aquifer by more than five feet per year. Overpumping is also dropping aquifers in southwestern New Mexico, as well as near Maxwell, Ojitos Frios, Magdalena, Santa Fe, Eldorado, La Cienega, in mountain communities east of Albuquerque and in the lower Rio Grande.

The plan also includes 69 recommendations taken from the regional plans and a town hall-style meeting earlier this year. These touch on everything from improving groundwater modeling, better understanding climate change impacts and accounting for water lost from reservoirs through evaporation to requiring a longer-term planning process than 40 years and metering groundwater wells.

It’s an ambitious plan. And although many state employees and contractors, as well as local officials and stakeholders, have worked on this plan over the course of years, top New Mexico officials wouldn’t talk about it—nor about current drought conditions or the state’s increasingly critical water situation.

NM Political Report reached out to the Office of the Governor and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. Gov. Susana Martinez’s director of communications, Benjamin Cloutier, ignored emails and phone calls. Requests to interview ISC Director John Longworth about the plan and its implementation were ignored, as were email and phone messages directly to Longworth.

Since the New Mexico’s next governor will inherit the state’s water challenges and also guide the direction state agencies and commissions take in the coming years, we reached out to the state’s two gubernatorial candidates, Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce.

Lujan Grisham: water planning an ‘afterthought’ for current administration

Lujan Grisham applauded the hard work of the state’s water stakeholders in updating the water plan.

“All 16 regions should be commended for their collaborative efforts to identify the risks, evaluate solutions and set goals that are critical to all New Mexicans,” she wrote in an email. “The draft plan underscores the importance of working together to protect New Mexico water.”

But, she said, she’s concerned that under the current administration the water planning process has been an afterthought.

“State law requires updating the water plan every five years—at a minimum. We need to do more if we are going to rise to the challenges we now face. Gov. Martinez and our state’s water leaders have not invested the time or energy in keeping New Mexico prepared in a changing environment,” she said, adding that as governor she would “commit the financial and administrative resources necessary to make responsible water management planning and execution an ongoing, robust, adequately funded, statewide effort—not an just exercise that occurs every five years.”

Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, a Democrat, represents the First Congressional District and is running for governor.

She pointed to other specific concerns, including that streamflow totals in the Rio Grande and other rivers in the Southwest were 5 percent to 37 percent lower between 2001 and 2010 than the average of 20th century flows. Drought and the rising temperatures, associated with climate change, she said, have caused tree die-offs and will continue to affect late-winter and spring snowpack, snowmelt and decreased soil moisture.

“These changes pose increased risks to the previous water supplies we need to maintain our communities, support agriculture, enable economic growth, and maintain New Mexico’s culture and environments, including endangered species,” she said. “To ensure adequate supply and create a realistic, sustainable plan, we need to rethink how we manage this precious resource. Smart water management and conservation have to become a way of life in New Mexico.”

Building statewide systems, related to everything from infrastructure to professional capacity, will better prepare the state for the “inevitable water shocks of an unpredictable future.”

Water needs to be managed in a way that’s fair and serves all New Mexicans, she said.

“Conservation and drought mitigation must be an ongoing effort. We must invest in reclamation, data collection, watershed restoration, and smarter planning processes in partnership between an engaged state government and stakeholders across the state,” she said. “This process of investment and planning will help us sustain a resilient economy for the long run.”

She also called for cooperation among state and federal agencies, local officials and stakeholders when it comes to setting and meeting water management goals and protecting existing water supplies.

“We need cooperation between the Office of the State Engineer, the Environment Department, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other state and federal agencies to engage in data collection and water monitoring,” according to Lujan Grisham. “This will help identify problems early in order to develop and implement realistic water management plans and drought response actions. Our acequias are not just a unique cultural tradition. They are a guide for how we can work together to keep New Mexico strong.”

Pearce: priorities include overgrown watersheds and a center of excellence

Republican gubernatorial nominee Steve Pearce said he’s paid close attention to water issues since serving as a state legislator from 1997 to 2000. He hasn’t read the draft water plan, but said very few of the plans he’s seen in the past are “coherent and thorough” enough to address New Mexico’s water challenges.

While the climatological record going back about 2,000 years shows periods of intense, long-term drought, modern inhabitants of New Mexico have known relatively wet periods, he said. Even the drought of the 1950s doesn’t compare to those ancient droughts: “That tells you that over a long historical period, we have been in a very wet time,” he said. And it also indicates we need to take the issues seriously.

“I would set up a Center of Excellence for Water,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “New Mexico should be the premier place in the country that knows and handles water.”

Pearce’s first priority would be restoring overgrown watersheds. “They suck up the water that would otherwise percolate into our aquifers and our streams,” he said. “Our streams are not healthy, our aquifers are not healthy.” As arid as New Mexico is, he said, it cannot sustain the number of trees currently in its forests.

“We’re also going to have to be much more active in defending our water,” Pearce said, pointing out that neighboring states are more aggressive in defending their water, and funding those battles.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, represents southern New Mexico in Congress, and is running for governor.

Pearce also said the state should clean up its brackish water reserves and reuse or recycle wastewater from the oil and gas industry. According to a study several years ago, he said, just within the city limits of Hobbs, about 42 million gallons of wastewater is produced each day. There’s potential, he said, to refine that water, as well as produced water in Eddy County and near Farmington.

New Mexico also needs to take a longer-term approach to investing in infrastructure. With budget surpluses in coming years, the state shouldn’t be spending that in “scattered ways” but rather taking a 20 or 50 year view of how to sustain water infrastructure.

“I don’t think anyone in New Mexico thinks we don’t need better solutions to water than we have right now,” he said. “And engagement of the public is key.”

When asked if there were any other water-related issues he wanted to discuss, Pearce brought up food.

“It might be a tangent, but I want New Mexico to become food self-sufficient. That’s one of the most urgent short-term adjustments we need to make in our economy,” he said. “I visualize that being achieved through the current production we’re doing and a system of interlocked, hydroponic, organic greenhouses across the state, in rural areas where we need the jobs, and where we generally have the water and the space.”

He thinks that could happen over the course of five years.

“The first destination of the food from the greenhouses would be our schools, to make sure our kids have food that don’t have pesticides, and are as fresh and clean as we can get them,” he said. “We could have a system across the state so counties can feed their own school systems.”

Hydroponic, organic greenhouses have been developed in California and Arizona, he said, and could happen on a larger scale here in New Mexico.

And he added, “One of the key elements, as we do that, is we figure out how to produce a lot more food with less water consumption.”

To read and comment on the draft New Mexico State Water Plan, visit here. On that page, select the gray box labeled “View Draft New Mexico State Water Plan,” which will redirect to a Dropbox page where the plan’s documents can be downloaded. Comments are due by Aug. 25, 2018.

 

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will call the Legislature into a special session this summer to address public safety legislation that did…
Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized its controversial public lands rule on Thursday. This rule is controversial because it allows for conservation leasing…
Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced a bill on Thursday that would, if enacted, establish judicial ethics to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Judicial Ethics…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, cosponsored a resolution on Monday calling…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that focuses on tax policy and how it impacts children in poverty, has new leadership. Gabrielle Uballez…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report