Legislation that would help protect waters in New Mexico after a U.S. Supreme Court hearing last year removed federal protections advanced on Thursday.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case that officials say place many waters in New Mexico at risk. The ruling resulted in a loss of protection for most ephemeral waterways.
Now the legislature is considering a bill that would address some of those concerns.
SB 111 passed the Senate Conservation Committee on a 5-3 vote.
The legislation would appropriate $840,000 to the New Mexico Environment Department for additional monitoring and enforcement of existing regulations and also for mapping efforts that will help understand how the Supreme Court decision may impact water in New Mexico.
Rachel Conn with Amigos Bravos said the funding is necessary to support interim protections and said “our waters are at risk now.”
“This special appropriation would give the agency the resources to be able to monitor the impacts from the Sackett decision and to implement existing regulations in the near term,” she said.
She said the Sackett decision left much of New Mexico’s waterways without federal protections.
Conn said that while the New Mexico Water Quality Act gives the state the authority to regulate discharges of pollutants into waterways, the state currently only has a permitting program for groundwater. It is, however, in the process of developing a permitting program for discharges into surface waters.
But the allocation of $840,000 to help NMED protect waters in the state is not without opposition, including from agriculture groups like the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.
Abby O’Connor, a Stanley resident, spoke on behalf of the cattlegrowers.
“New Mexico farmers and ranchers provide our state and nation in the world with healthy, wholesome and nutritious products,” she said. “We rely on food and water for our families, our livestock and the wildlife that we support. Sustaining and enhancing our waters in the land is a commitment the agriculture producers take seriously. We simply have no choice.”
But she argued that the agricultural producers are faced with burdensome regulations and said they are already “overwhelmed with regulation, permits, paperwork, and remote bureaucrats who don’t understand that we often work multiple jobs from daylight to dusk, not just the nine to five.”
She argued that the legislation would create more bureaucracy and more burdensome regulations.
Meanwhile, the New Mexico Acequia Commission supports the legislation. Ralph Vigil, a farmer and chairman of the acequia commission, spoke about the continued acid drainage from mines in the Pecos River watershed that impacts both surface and groundwater quality. He said that while the mining occurred nearly a century ago, it still impacts people.
“This uncertainty from the Sackett decision leaves our communities at risk for contamination of water. And I’m just concerned about what can come out of this, for the future of our children and the quality of water that they will inherit from us,” he said.
Also on Thursday, the House Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee discussed two bills related to water and passed one of those two bills.
“If this is the year that we’re going to have a $10.8 billion budget, it’s probably the time to get started on these water projects that have been vetted, approved. They’re shovel ready. They’re ready to go. And so that’s what this bill is really about,” said bill sponsor Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo.
The committee also discussed HB 211, Water Project Prioritization, however the members chose to delay the vote on that legislation for a future meeting.