NM officials to seek millions for a 50-year water plan that hasn’t yet been revealed

Draft should be out by the end of the year and is undergoing review by the governor, according to the state engineer

By: - December 15, 2022 5:05 am

The Rio Grande in northern Albuquerque on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

While human-caused climate change continues to strain New Mexico’s water resources, state officials say they want lawmakers to dedicate $8.25 million for a 50-year water plan that’s still being drafted. 

The Interstate Stream Commission, a division of the Office of the State Engineer, has been putting together a plan since 2020 that offers solutions to water issues over five decades caused by a warming globe. The proposal has not yet been released.

Next steps

The public will be able to review the draft of the plan once it’s released. Then, it’ll go to the Interstate Stream Commission for adoption, though there’s no certain timeline yet.

State Engineer Mike Hamman went over the request with lawmakers on Tuesday. His office’s proposed budget includes $6 million for rolling out the water plan. Although the office is asking for the money to be allocated during the next session, spokesperson Maggie Fitzgerald said it would be pieced out and come down over three years through fiscal year 2026.

On top of that, Hamman asked lawmakers for $750,000 annually in the same three-year period for staffing and other resources. In total, the State Engineer’s Office is looking for $8.25 million for implementing the plan. 

Plus, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney told lawmakers in a separate session on Tuesday about a request for another $5.5 million related to a recommendation in the 50-year plan for water reuse strategies.

Rep. Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces) asked the state engineer for more information about how all the money will be spent — and about any other requests that could come in — but Hamman couldn’t provide many specifics, he said, since the plan is still being developed. There are detailed recommendations in the draft, Hamman added, but it’s under review by the Governor’s Office.

Hopefully, Hamman said, more details will be ironed out in the next few weeks, though there still isn’t a date set for the 50-year water plan’s public release. Fitzgerald said the office hopes to unveil a draft before the end of the year.

Climate change adaptation and resource resiliency are critically important, Fitzgerald said in an emailed statement, “and we work closely with the Governor’s Office to ensure that our planning work meets her vision for the state’s future sustainability and resiliency.”

Sen. Bill Tallman (D-Albuquerque) asked whether the plan anticipates that the state will have to make tough decisions on how to allocate water, like deciding between residential or agricultural or manufacturing uses. After Hamman said the goal is to distribute water equitably no matter what, Tallman asked “You’re not anticipating in the next 50 years a real crisis as far as the supply of water?”

Hamman didn’t completely answer, though he acknowledged that climate change will continue to deplete water sources in the state. He said New Mexico’s water infrastructure — from aquifers to stormwater injection wells — needs to be protected and updated to meet those challenges. And all of that is laid out in the plan, he assured.

“We’ve got to figure out how to readdress our 20th century infrastructure,” he said, “to be prepared for the 21st century type of water supply that we have.”


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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.