Goodman: It's Time For New Mexico Legislators To Protect Our Water

Jan 20, 2019

Credit Peter Goodman

Commentary: “New Mexico is faced with, but has not faced up to, important water resource limitations.” That accurate statement comes from a group that, pursuant to House Memorial 1 (2017), has thought long and hard about our water situation. (Some of these folks have been thinking about New Mexico's water management for more than a quarter-century.)

They recommend three bills the Legislature should adopt this session. All are in committee.

HB174 directs the state engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission (“ISC”) to prepare to administer water rights and water use by priority (as required by law), ensure compliance with the Rio Grande Compact if necessary, and encourage local water-sharing agreements.

HB186 would amend ISC statutes to require addressing hydrological realities through science-based planning. Those realities include unsustainable water use, watershed health, water-conservation needs, and climate-change impacts. (We need to consider these realities, and only a science-based approach makes sense.) 

HB187 seeks reform of important unresolved issues in water law. The bill wouldn't presume to dictate answers, but would direct the Utton Transboundary Resources Center at UNM to make recommendations. Utton would evaluate in detail five aspects of water law, including general stream adjudications of water rights, protection of supplies, and preparations for supply and demand changes triggered by higher temperatures and climate change. 

New Mexico's water laws need review and improvements. At least three other western states have adjudication laws and processes that are more productive and less adversarial than ours. 

Water laws created for an unpopulated desert to which the government wanted to attract people and development are as ill-fitting for a highly-populated desert with competing water needs as the striped suit I wore at my 5th birthday party would be for me now. We need to face up to the harsh realities of our Land of Enchantment. We need to make some damned difficult decisions, which will leave no one completely happy, but at least start providing for future generations. We need to adjust old systems to the new world without either giving some people huge windfalls or simply deleting anyone's legal property rights. 

These bills don't do everything we'll ultimately have to do. But they would make our decision-makers sit down and face the problems, then get to work. New Mexico leaders from all political persuasions have kicked this problem down the road too long.

The bills' proponents note that we could lose the U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit, drastically cutting our future water use from and near the Rio Grande; groundwater around the state is being depleted or rendered unpotable; and the state has treated water administration as I used to treat car radiators: ignore 'em til they blew and be sad when the engine cracked.

Some might say language in the bill sounds like an admission against New Mexico's interest in the lawsuit; but the state's lawyers can easily massage references to a possible loss, to avoid any apparent concession of any position taken by Texas. Separately, the state has strong counterclaims: Texas's unregulated groundwater pumping is a big part of the problem.

Some could argue that the new governor will appoint a savvy state engineer and topnotch ISC Director; but given decades of neglect by both parties, it'd be prudent to enact most of these proposals into law. This should include making the ISC non-partisan and clarifying its urgent message; and we need clear and reliable data for decision-makers, as well as funding.


[IF YOUR WANT YOUR VOICE HEARD this legislative session, please read this.  

1. The folks at Retake our Democracy (Paul Gibson, Roxanne Barber, and others) up in Santa Fe have put some useful resources on their website:   Paul will also be reporting regularly during the session on KTAL-LP's "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" (which I host) Wednesdays 8-10 a.m.  He'll be calling in as and when that fits his schedule and what's going on in the show, so I can't say just when he'll call.

2. is a great way to find out what's happening with bills you care about, and which committee(s) are looking at them or will soon be doing so, as well as reading the full and accurate text of bills.  This is a nonparisan governmental site.

3. The Secretary of State's Office site offers ways to check which legislators and causes got money from whom, or whom the NRA or Planned Parenthood or New Mexico Foundation for Open Government contributed to.

4. I'm hoping we'll get regular calls from folks who are either legislators or up in Santa Fe observing events closely]  Paul Gibson's one, but I've talked to several others.  Again, the show is 8-10 a.m. Wednesdays, on 101.5 FM (or streamable at]

[The three bills discussed above have all been sent to the House Ag and Water Resources Committee.  Our own Micaela Lara Cadena (from Dist. 33) is one of the members of that Committee.  Feel free to email or call he with your view on these bills.  Other members include Raymundo Lara (Dist. 34) and Chair Derrick J. Lente (Dist. 65, and Vice-Chair Candie G. Sweetser.  If you happen to know any of them, and particularly if you  live in his or her district, please communicate on this.  Thanks!]