By Andy Jackson
Record gas and oil revenues left the state with a bloated budget and area officials agree this is the year to fund a solution to New Mexico’s water woes.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega visited the state capitol Saturday and lobbied for a permanent water trust fund, alongside other regional mayors, state legislators, tribal representative and organizations.
“(Saturday) was a great success. Several communities and legislators came together with one voice. We need to address water and this is the year to do that,” he said.
Exceptional revenue from oil and gas leases afford solutions this year to a problem recognized more than 40 years ago, Ortega said.
Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, agrees.
“Water is an appropriate use of the windfalls,” he said.
Clovis and Portales pump water from Ogallala aquifer, which hydrologists say is rapidly depleting, according to Ortega.
In the last three years, more wells have been created, however fewer gallons of water are being pumped, Ortega said. Hydrologists estimate it’ll be dry in the next 12 to 20 years, he said.
“We know we have a depleting aquifer, we need to work on finding a renewable source for eastern New Mexico,” Ortega said.
The renewable solution is a pipeline to Ute Lake, a man-made reservoir was constructed in the mid sixties for the purpose of aquifer alleviation, he said.
“We are committed to making this (the Ute Lake pipeline) a reality,” Ortega said.
Harden also wants a water solution funded, and is optimistic.
“I want the money to go into a solution. I think the right people are working on dollars going into state-wide water projects,” he said.
Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, sponsors a bill to appropriate $70 million to the Ute Pipeline project, and declares the water problem an “emergency”.
The bill unanimously passed through two legislative committees. Now in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, HB 121 would distribute $280 million across the state to seven, separate water projects. Unused money, would revert back into the general fund, according to the bill.
The Ute Pipeline project is appropriated the most funds.
Another house bill calls for $180 million of the state’s general fund to be allocated to the water trust fund for subsequent water spending. It passed unopposed through one committee and next goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
A bill to appoint a task force of 23 legislators, citizens and finance experts to identify funding mechanisms of the water trust fund passed through committee and next enters the senate for a vote.
The Ogallala aquifer, which also supplies much of the South Plains its water, has been regionally pumped for hundreds of years, Ortega said.
“Our communities are really growing, we need that water resource to meet the demands of the future,” he said.