Congressional leaders from New Mexico hoped a recently enacted federal law would provide needed relief to the state suffering from perilous drought conditions and water scarcity.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday and was touted as making historic investments in initiatives to combat climate change brought on by man-made pollution from industrial sources like fossil fuel production and use.
In New Mexico this year, environmentalists and the state’s Democrat congressmembers pointed to worsening drought and record-breaking wildfires as evidence of the impacts of climate change and its threats to the state.
The IRA contained a $4 billion appropriation to address the effects of drought in western states, and another $550 million in aid to communities suffering from depleting water supplies.
But U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) said more work was needed to truly fix the problem.
She introduced a series of bills last year, her first in office, that would increase federal collection and reporting of data on water supplies to assist planning, while also funding restoration efforts along the Rio Grande in New Mexico and its tributaries like the Pecos River and water relief for Indigenous groups nationwide.
The legislation was also supported by U.S. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM),
During a Wednesday press conference near Albuquerque along the banks of the Rio Grande, Stansbury said the river – New Mexico’s largest body of water – was in danger of running dry, imperiling the people who depend on it along with myriad riparian plants and animals.
“Just a few weeks ago, we saw stretches of the river behind us go dry for the first time in decades, as our wildlife biologists and water conservationists were scrambling to save endangered species out of the river,” Stansbury said before the audience.
The bills were attached to a package aimed at responding to nationwide drought and wildfires that passed the House last month, and Stansbury called on the Senate to send the legislation to Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
The package included the Stansbury-sponsored Water Data Act to create a council dedicated to standardizing such information across federal agencies and encourage their collaboration.
It also held the Rio Grande Water Security Act to dedicate federal funds and create a basin-wide restoration plan stretching all 1,900 miles of the river and the three states in runs through from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of New Mexico.
And the WaterSMART Access for Tribes Act would expand a federal program that funds water restoration projects to focus on Indigenous communities.
Stansbury was joined by New Mexico State Engineer Mike Hamman who said policy was needed to strengthen the State’s ability to study its rivers and water supplies, tracking drought and planning for the future.
“What we cannot measure, we cannot effectively manage, and what we cannot manage, we cannot proactively plan for and adapt to rapidly changing conditions,” Hamman said.
“The Water Data Act and the Rio Grande Security Act represent important steps toward standardizing the collection, use, and access to the critical water data we need, as well as providing resources and direction to assist states, tribes, and communities within the Rio Grande basin with the growing crises of water shortages and environmental impacts.”
The New Mexico Bureau of Geology, at the behest of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, released a 50-year water plan for the state last fall, aiming to uncover water availability trends and forecasted impacts of the next five decades.
Mike Timmons, the Bureau’s acting director said during the conference the scientific community needed more research to continue its studies on drought and New Mexico’s water as the impacts appeared destined to get worse.
“The demands on our water resources continues to stress this delicate natural system and the health and livelihoods of millions,” Timmons said.
“From the perspective of the science agency, we need the resources and coordination across multiple jurisdictions to bring the very best data and science to the water management table.
New Mexico’s only Republican congressmember Rep. Yvette Herrell (D-NM) did co-sponsor the Water Data Act and Rio Grande Water Security Act in May, though she voted against the larger Democrat-led Continental Divide Trail Completion Act that ultimately contained the drought package containing Stansbury’s bills.
“Unless we take swift action, drought will continue to have negative effects on our communities, causing losses in crop yields and forcing ranchers to sell off cattle herds due to lack of water,” she said in announcing her co-sponsorship.
“Jobs could dry up along with the water that supports them.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.