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House Approves Proposal For State Water Reserve

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
   SANTA FE   —   The state would establish a "strategic river reserve" to lease or buy water rights to deal with New Mexico's pressing water problems under legislation approved by the House on Monday.
    The proposal would earmark 3 percent of the state's yearly severance tax bond financing for the water reserve during the next 20 years to provide money for the acquisition of water rights.
    Rep. Joe Stell, D-Carlsbad, said the water reserve would help the state meet demands of interstate water agreements and address conflicts over endangered species, such as the silvery minnow dispute on the Rio Grande.
    "We need these proactive tools to deal with our water crisis," said Stell, chairman of the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee.
    Currently, 10 percent of severance tax bond capacity is set aside for water projects, such as water supply pipelines. The bonds, which are backed by severance tax revenues, typically are used to finance capital improvements across the state. It's estimated the state will have about $130 million in bond capacity this session.
    Think New Mexico, an independent think tank, issued a report last year calling for the creation of a water reserve.
    The legislation would allow the Interstate Stream Commission to lease or purchase water rights from willing sellers or accept donations of water rights. However, the measure would prohibit the commission from acquiring water rights from acequias.
    Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, said the proposed reserve could help the state avoid problems such as those faced by New Mexico on the Pecos River, where the state is acquiring water rights to help meet interstate compact requirements to deliver water to Texas.
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    The water reserve bill is HB312.