SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s lawmakers know just how dangerous wildfire season can be. Last year, New Mexico saw its largest wildfire on record, and now lawmakers are looking at ways to help prevent another catastrophe.
One idea is to allow firefighters to use water that is currently off-limits to help fight fires. Senate Bill 470, sponsored by Sen. Joshua A. Sanchez (R-Cibola, McKinley, Socorro & Valencia), would do just that.
The bill would pause restrictions on water usage under the Federal Endangered Species Act, which aims to protect the habitat of species like the silvery minnow. The idea behind the bill is to give firefighters legal access to much-needed water within fifteen miles of a fire.
“This bill would just give us another tool to help us move faster and get these fires put out,” Sanchez told the Senate Conservation Committee on Thursday, May 2. “I think it would help the endangered species that are in that area.”
A key issue, however, is whether or not New Mexico can implement such a rule. Generally, when state law and federal law conflict, federal law wins. And there’s nothing in the Federal Endangered Species Act to pause restrictions to help firefighters, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee.
Legislators agreed that in emergencies, firefighters need access to water. But they expressed concern about leaving the Federal Government out of the discussion. Ultimately, the Senate Conservation Committee decided to keep the bill moving forward, but it will likely undergo more intense scrutiny in the Senate Judiciary Committee.