Senator Michael Sanchez referred to water as a “sleeper issue” of this session. It’s waking up as several bills have been introduced regarding water quality, water rights, water leases and water beneficial use. Some may raise a water wonk’s eyebrow.
The meaning and purpose of proposed legislation is not always evident from the title or text, especially before analysts have worked their magic. But bill sponsors provide a clue. When corporate-friendly legislators go green, take notice. Some bills come from a dark place where money meets something it doesn’t like that a bill can fix.
Continuing in the well-worn trench of undervaluing water and overvaluing mineral resources, Senator Phil Griego has introduced another bill, SB193, to mess with membership of the Water Quality Control Board, an agency key to controlling pollution from oil and gas production. In 2011 he tried to abolish it completely. Measures to weaken water quality controls in an era of declining supply seem especially ill-advised.
So does potentially allowing companies to profit from future water shortages. There are those in New Mexico that may be attempting to do just that. Jack Loeffler describes the nature of one scheme in particular – the San Augustin Ranch LLC water rights transfer.
Several bills have been introduced that may be connected to this case. It was just killed in state court in November because the applicant didn’t state what the water would be used for – how it would be put to beneficial use. Maybe they didn’t have a buyer.
Can we fix that for ya?
Connecting the dots requires squinting, but the effort could be related to a proposal involving Audubon New Mexico to use funding from US Fish and Wildlife for water transactions, including leases, for stream flows in a 105 mile stretch of the Rio Grande between Percha Dam and El Paso. Bingo. A buyer. (UPDATE: Apparently this particular transaction would be prohibited. A water right from above Elephant Butte Dam can't be transferred below it to this stretch of the river.)
And this could be connected to Representative Bobby Gonzales’s HB 19, similar to Senator Phil Griego’s SB188, that would allow a leased water right to constitute beneficial use of an owner’s right. Water must be put to a “beneficial use” in order for a water right to exist. The FIR is out on HB19 and it suggests this looks like ‘water speculation’ – a big no-no in Western water law. The bill might allow an applicant to transfer and retain a water right that would otherwise expire by leasing the right for another “beneficial use” – like say, for wild instance, stream flows in the lower Rio Grande. Then the water right owner could sell the water to another user after the lease expires for a much higher price.
It’s imaginative. But so are thirsty giants.Cross posted at El Grito