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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Creation of State Water Plan in Works

By Tania Soussan
Journal Staff Writer
    SANTA FE Legislators kicked off an effort Monday to create a statewide water plan that emphasizes conservation, addresses drought and protects New Mexico culture, environment and economic stability.
    "The issue of water water quantity, water quality, water in general is paramount to that of taxes and budget and everything else we're going to be doing this legislative session," Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, said.
    Cisneros and Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, introduced a bill Monday setting out guidelines for what should be included in the state water plan. Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, introduced the same bill in the House.
    Gov. Bill Richardson has said he wants a statewide water plan finished by the end of the year. The bills set no deadline.
    The plan is intended to give the state a structure for addressing water issues and a forum for dealing with conflicts, Feldman said.
    The legislature in 1987 passed a law calling for regional water plans. So far, only 4 of 16 regions have plans finished and approved by the Interstate Stream Commission.
    "Water planning really hasn't come easy," Feldman said.
    Developing a state plan is important to fending off challenges from others who might try to get water from New Mexico, the senators said. Texas, for example, has been gearing up for a potential legal battle over Rio Grande water.
    The bill calls for public involvement, an inventory of water quality and quantity, water budgets for the state and all river basins and aquifer systems, and a recognition of the connection between water and land use.
    "The bill directs the ISC to take into account the state's customs, traditions and livelihoods that are dependent on water," Stewart said.
    The governor's office will review the bill and might suggest changes, said Bill Hume, Richardson's policy and planning adviser. He said the governor wants a plan that protects water rights holders, commits to environmental needs in streams and rivers and protects New Mexico from outside water grabs.
    State Engineer-designate John D'Antonio said he is concerned about being able to draft a meaningful plan within a year. The plan would be updated every five years.
    Some people who have been working on regional water plans are concerned about how a state plan will affect them.
    "Not everybody is happy with the idea," Stewart said.
    The state "must address how to respond when regional plans conflict with each other or with overriding state interests," said John R. Brown, executive director of the New Mexico Water Dialogue. "For these reasons, a state water plan is vital. But it should not be heavy-handed. It should look to the regional plans for direction."