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Senate measures tackle water problems in state

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A group of New Mexico state senators rolled out a package of bills this week aimed at the state’s increasingly serious water problems.

“Every day, we see the magnitude of the water challenges our state is facing continue to grow,” said Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, at a Tuesday morning capital building news conference.

Wirth ticked off a litany of problems exacerbated by the third year of drought in New Mexico, from farmers who probably will not get water to shortfalls for recreation to problems meeting the terms of the federal Endangered Species Act. “The list goes on and on,” Wirth told reporters.

The bottom line, Wirth said, is that the economic impact of the state’s water problems is significant.

Much of the legislation is targeted at the arcane but critical issue of water rights adjudication, the laborious legal process of determining who is entitled to how much water in times of drought. A bill sponsored by Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, would provide $1.2 million to increase the number of judges working on adjudication.

A bill sponsored by Wirth would appropriate $250,000 to support work by scientists at New Mexico’s research universities to study the state’s long-term supply and demand vulnerabilities. In a related measure, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, added a bill to set aside $400,000 for updates of the state’s Regional Water Plans.

The largest bill in the package is a $120 million appropriation request from Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, to help deal with serious water problems on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. The money could be used to import water, to improve water efficiency and to buy up and retire water rights, taking agricultural land out of production to reduce water use.
— This article appeared on page A3 of the Albuquerque Journal

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