New Mexico’s farmers, ranchers and housing subdividers have probably been the first to understand what’s at stake with water. They have skin in the game. They’re represented at the Roundhouse. So are the water speculators, those brave ‘visionaries’ inside the water sale, lease and transfer game.
Water transfers are considered a solution to water supply and demand challenges. Bills at the Legislature this session strongly support such a view. Whether you agree with the approach or not, there are interesting implications. For one thing, transferring paper water around by selling and leasing water rights to thirsty desperate entities has grown very profitable. But building pipelines, pumps, canals, and dams to actually move wet water is a very expensive public cost.
Senator Cervantes has introduced SB440 to provide
funding for lower Rio Grande water purchases, among other things. It
begs the question of where the water would come from. Coincidentally,
I’m so sure, there are a couple of pipeline projects in the Capital Outlay List:
SOUTHERN NM WATER PIPELINE GILA-SAN FRANCISCO 25,000,000 to plan, design and construct a water conveyance pipeline from the Gila-San Francisco water basin to the Las Cruces metropolitan area…
SOUTHERN NM WATER PIPELINE SALT/TULAROSA/CARLSBAD 75,000,000 to plan, design and construct a water conveyance pipeline from the Salt, Tularosa, Carlsbad and other water basins in Dona Ana, Otero and Eddy counties.
The Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) has done a lot planning involving a lot of people with interest in the future of the Gila River. A pipeline was not part of that planning. Is the Office of the State Engineer and the ISC ignoring the extensive and expensive process they established to spend money and use this water? Is the Legislature?
The Watchdog’s coverage of SB440 noted the Office of the State Engineer and ISC statement: “As more time passes, and water problems increase in magnitude statewide, existing regional water plans are outdated and useless in addressing emerging water crises.” So updating the plans instead of ignoring them should be a top priority. Or you might think so.
SB13, another Cervantes bill, would give $400,000 to the ISC for planning in the lower Rio Grande. Nice and timely for any transferring but it doesn’t appear to fit with a coordinated process to update all 16 regional plans. The Legislature hasn’t funded water planning in five years. But that hasn’t slowed infrastructure project requests – requests that are supposed to be prioritized through water plans – begging the question of how priorities are being set now.
The State Engineer has the sole power to make transfer decisions and he is supposed to take ‘public welfare’ into account. That’s a sticky wicket since the stalled water planning process was intended to define what that means, along with how much water there might be to transfer in the first place. The State Engineer said water administration involves ‘multiple cans of worms.’ Better go fishing soon while the river is still there.