New Mexico Water Legislation Update for 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

This legislative session saw many bills affecting New Mexico water issues, but few that passed.  Those that passed were: House Joint Memorial 6 - a bill creating water awareness week and Senate Bill 276 - a bill regarding state engineer hearing venue.   House Bill 38 - The Forest and Watershed Restoration Act, was enacted by the legislature, but vetoed by the governor. 

House Joint Memorial 6 was also signed into law creating New Mexico Water Awareness Week.  This memorial declares February 5-11 to be "New Mexico Water Awareness Week" at the legislature.  The memorial requests the interstate stream commission, in connection with other nonprofit organizations to consider the development of a future forum or policy briefing comparing the water planning process in New Mexico to that of other states to enable lawmakers and community members to learn from best practices.  It further requests the Department of the Environment to research the development of a uniform application for water funding to align information gathering for multiple sources.  Finally, the memorial encourages legal and scientific research onto aquifer storage and recovery of storm water in New Mexico and research and development of habitat preservation strategies.

Senate Bill 276 also passed and was signed by the governor.  This bill amends section 72-2-16 of the water code to provide that hearings held before the State Engineer or the Engineer's appointed examiner must be held in the county in which the water right at issue is adjudicated, licensed or permitted, unless the parties and the State Engineer stipulate to another site for the hearing.

House Bill 38 created a Forest and Watershed Restoration Board attached to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and a Forest and Watershed Restoration Fund.  This bill was passed by the legislature, but was vetoed by the governor.  This bill was introduced to address the growing concern of large forest fire and watershed devastation in the state and threats to the state's water supply resulting from such fires.  The bill gave the board authority to adopt guidelines, protocols and best management practices for forest and watershed restoration projects, foster cooperation and partnerships among various public and private organizations dedicated to forest and watershed preservation and restoration, evaluate and prioritize projects for funding and adopt rules for the proper administration of the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act.  This bill established the types of projects that could be funded, which included on the ground restoration projects and economic development projects.  It also established the application process and prioritization factors for projects.  Funds would be appropriated to the board but administered by ENMRD.  The bill contained an appropriation from various funds for $2.25 million to the forest and watershed restoration fund.  A Senate amendment provided that the board would be advisory and that the EMNRD's Forestry Division would make the final determinations with regard to funding projects.  The bill, however, was vetoed by governor Martinez.

Additional bills regarding water issues that did not pass included: House Bill 265/Senate Bill 313 State Engineer Authority, House Joint Resolution 8 - Water Rights Pro Rata Allocation, Senate Bill 336 - New District Water Courts, Senate Bill 455 - Gila River Development Subject to ISC Report of Satisfaction, Senate Bill 493 - Water Right Leases Effective Dates, and Senate Bill 550 - Regional Water Authority Act.

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