With the legislative session underway this week, the nonprofit group Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates will be pushing for a bill to address the water crisis the state is entering.

The Water Advocates are demanding the Governor and the 2023 Legislature to fund New Mexico’s state water agencies to increase their capacity to do the jobs the legislature has given them and to address new challenges.

And to pass the 2023 Regional Water Resilience Planning Act.

The water advocates say the proposed legislation is needed because the existing 1987 water planning statute does not address current and future water shortages. “Surface and groundwaters are already over-appropriated,” advocates say. “Several aquifers are being rapidly depleted; surface water supply is projected to fall 25 percent in 50 years.”

The proposed bill says the existing water planning statutes are no longer addressing the current and future water shortages.

State Engineer Mike Hamman had called for a Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force that put together a series of recommendations for how to proceed forward with water planning.

The proposed bill will implement those recommendations according to Norm Gaume, President of the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates, who hosted a webinar “Think Water-Act Now” last week. It was attended by upwards of 100 water advocates, specialists, and stakeholders.

Guame’s resume is all about water. As former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, former manager of the City of Albuquerque Water Resources, and an engineering advisor to The Rio Grande Compact Commission, he said that the proposed Water Planning Resiliency Act would require state support of regional water planning entities and commitment to implement approved or prioritized plans.

Guame points out that polling shows 75 percent of likely voters agree or strongly agree that “we need to act now to ensure that future generations have an adequate water supply. Two-thirds of voters agree or strongly agree that the New Mexico Government needs to modernize and dedicate more funding toward the management of our water quality and water supply.

At the webinar State Geologist Nelia Dunbar gave a sobering report assessing the impacts of climate change on New Mexico water resources looking ahead 50 years. She said the aim of the report, “Climate Change in New Mexico Over the Next 50 Years: Impacts on Water Resources,” was to develop a scientifically strong foundation upon which New Mexico’s 50-year water plan could be built.

The report, a collaboration of the Interstate Stream Commission and the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, states that global climate models project an average temperature increase across New Mexico of 5-7 degrees over the next 50 years.

The report finds that other primary impacts are “decreased water supply (partly driven by thinner snowpacks and earlier spring melting), lower soil moisture levels, increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, and increased competition and demand for scarce water resources.”

In addition, snowpack and runoff are expected to decline over the next five decades, affecting headwater streamflow, and that flow in the state’s major rivers is projected to decline by 16-28 percent. The frequency of extreme precipitation events, coupled with fire-driven disruption of vegetation in watersheds, is projected to at least double river sediment.

“The impacts of climate change on New Mexico’s water resources are overwhelmingly negative,” the report summarizes.

At the webinar, Guame said he was impressed by Dunbar’s presentation.

“I am blown away by the quality, the usefulness of the work, that the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources does,” he said. “The presentation was phenomenal.”

Respective of that, Guame emphasized that increased staffing for water agencies is the first order of business, as well as cooperation among stakeholders.

“If we could get to a planning process where lots of interested stakeholders could get together and rather than defending their positions, they could discuss their interests, we might be able to come to an agreement on how to do things,” he said. “But we haven’t even tried.”

Gaume said effective water planning will require “major staff support, funding, models, data in the commission and the state engineer’s office.”

He said the state engineer has very broad authority, but “the issue with state authority has been that the authority is there, but the state engineers of the past hadn’t really had the political permission to crack down, to regulate. But the state engineer’s office simply doesn’t have the staff. Currently, in order for the state engineer to take enforcement authority, he has to sue.”

The result is that taxpayers are spending millions on water litigation.

In Catron County, water advocate Carol Pittman is watching for the water bill to come to fruition and hoping it will help to prevent water mining projects, such as the one by Augustin Plain Ranch LLC.

“My hope is that it’s going to have some groundwater rules and that some money will go into places like this,” Pittman said. “As we have been in this protest all these years we have educated ourselves on water law, and man, we need an update. The previous water data act has never been adequately funded.”

In the meantime, the Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates and allies are holding a rally outside the State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to “draw attention to the long-overdue need for the Legislature and Governor to act and make essential decisions to protect New Mexico’s water future.”