SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Many New Mexico communities have limited access to water. Now, legislators are working on a bill that would change the way small communities access, share, and manage this key resource. Senate Bill 1 made it through the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday, but not before some debate.
A framework for regional water systems
If you’re from Albuquerque or another big city, you’re likely familiar with the way water ends up in your home: It’s pumped by a massive water utility that has the staff, resources, and money to ensure reliable, clean water is available when you need it. But across more than 100 New Mexico communities, it doesn’t quite work that way.
Around 150 communities across New Mexico rely on “Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Associations.” These were first set up in the late 1940s, according to the New Mexico Rural Water Association.
The original idea was to help rural New Mexicans get access to something other than “hazardous . . . ditch water.” By 2006, the law was updated to make Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Associations into political subdivisions of the state.
These Mutual Domestics allowed communities to pool resources, set rules, and access public money. In other words, they gave rural communities something other than an “every New Mexican for Themselves” approach.
According to recent discussions at the Roundhouse, many rural communities still don’t have the resources or access to water they need. “Many of these small Mutual Domestics have 25, even fewer, members,” Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) said in a Senate Conservation Committee hearing. “They’ve got to go try and scramble for money.”
Wirth co-sponsored the new bill and says that in Cañada de los Alamos, a small community near Santa Fe, they have run simply out of water. The solution: They could “regionalize” and connect with other communities to share water.
That’s the point of Senate Bill 1. It allows smaller communities to join forces and pool resources to act like a larger water utility. “In many ways, they really don’t have a choice,” Wirth says. “Drilling wells – we’re reaching the point where that’s not an option.”
Devil in the details
While many spoke in favor of the bill, the discussion on Tuesday focused on details. For example, Senator Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana) pointed out that it’s important to clarify who would have a say in how the regional water utilities, the new, joined-together entities, operate.
“When you define a ‘member’ as a property owner receiving services, is it the owner? Is it the tenant?,” Cervantes says. “That becomes an issue.”
Cervantes adds that, especially when it comes to water rights, local political fights can ensue. “Sometimes these votes [over water] are pretty tight and they’re pretty contentious, particularly when you’re raising rates,” he says. So, ironing out those details will likely be crucial to the bill’s success.
Next, the bill goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. On its way, it’s likely that some of the details will be reworked.