Smart water projects for southwestern New Mexico


Sen. Martin Heinrich, Your view
Published 12:07 a.m. MT April 18, 2021

It has been nearly two decades since Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) of 2004, which was meant to deliver millions of dollars in federal funding to southwestern New Mexico.

Unfortunately, in all that time, the body that New Mexico put in charge of figuring out how to best put those funds to use — the New Mexico CAP (Central Arizona Project) Entity — squandered $16 million of the AWSA funds studying unproductive and wildly expensive proposals to dewater and divert the Gila and San Francisco rivers. Nothing that the CAP Entity proposed ever made fiscal, ecological, or economic sense. Unfortunately, the millions of dollars that they wasted studying unviable ideas is something that we can never get back.

Thankfully, the New Mexico Legislature just said that enough is enough. By passing House Bill 200 — which Gov. Lujan Grisham just signed into law — state legislators like Senator Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City finally turned the page on the unworkable failures of the CAP Entity and find a more productive path forward that will benefit residents and water users in all four southwestern New Mexico counties — Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, and Luna.

Under this new legislation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and the Water Trust Board will decide how to best put the remaining $80 million in AWSA funds to use building sensible, feasible, and ready-to-go water infrastructure projects. These bodies will be able to hit the ground running and bring their technical expertise and organizational infrastructure to the table as they decide how to effectively and fairly disburse funding to water projects in all four counties.

We can now put these funds to use on projects like a new water tank and well for the Quemado Lake Water Association in Catron County or new and improved infrastructure to connect the communities of Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard, and Hurley through the Grant County Regional Water Supply Project. We can also restore the health of forests and watersheds that provide all of our drinking water and improve efficiency and conservation measures for all of the region’s local water delivery systems.

All of this will do far more to sustain future water needs of a much broader range of residents of southwestern New Mexico than any diversion project ever could. These more practical water infrastructure projects will also immediately put dozens of New Mexicans to work. This is particularly important in Luna County, where the unemployment rate at the end of 2020 rose to over 15 percent. 

I commend Sen. Correa Hemphill and her colleagues in the Legislature, Gov. Lujan Grisham, and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales for getting this done. And…



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