New Mexico completed its 2022 30-day budget session on February 17. In our pre-session newsletter article, we outlined the high hopes we had that an unprecedented surplus and additional federal relief funds would secure large funding increases for our state agencies and for various conservation programs. For example, we were advocating for a bill which would have given fifteen million dollars to the Strategic Water Reserve, a program which allows water rights to be acquired and left in the rivers for endangered species protection and compact compliance. Additionally, there were bills to expand the qualifications for State Engineer so a greater pool of applicants could be considered, and large funding requests to past legislation like the Water Data Act which requires the state to compile and organization information about the state’s water. Finally, we were following a proposal from the Governor’s Administration to ask voters in the next election whether to fund several conservation measures through a bond.
Unfortunately, the session ended with almost none of these initiatives being successful. There were small general funding increases for state agencies, a $500,000 appropriation for the Strategic Water Reserve which will go towards a specific project, and small allocations for pilot programs to address drought. We were successful in obtaining permanent ongoing funding for the Environmental Database Act, which we helped pass in the 2021 session.
The 2023 session is a long session, meaning there are funding prospects as well as a chance to change policy. We are looking forward to pursuing a robust docket, both to make up for missed opportunities this year and to take advantage of that session’s longer time frame and wider scope. Hopefully New Mexico will continue to experience a surplus which will allow investment in underfunded programs.
We expect to focus largely on water policy and conservation funding over the coming months during the legislature’s interim session and into 2023. Specifically, we will continue our long-time work of securing permanent funding for conservation projects around the state by finding a revenue source which can be used for many years to pay for projects outright as well as to provide matching dollars for available federal funding.
We want to help the state be as resilient to climate change and long-term drought as possible. This will mean fully funding water agencies and programs, modernizing and streamlining water management, and creating flexible tools to allow more water to be left in rivers at critical times. We hope New Mexico can become a model for robust and healthy riparian ecosystems in the face of ongoing hardship, and we look forward to updating our membership about our efforts and informing you about how you can help the process.