Editor: The ongoing drought is having devastating effects on New Mexico’s agricultural community as ranchers cull their herds for lack of grass and farmers fallow productive land for lack of irrigation water.

While we pray for rain and conserve what little precipitation comes our way, the infrastructure package currently being debated in Washington, D.C. could hold the key to lessen the impacts of future droughts.

Despite extensive water conservation and soil health measures enacted by our state’s farm, ranch and dairy families, the current water shortage is extreme. Chile, a crop we’re known for far and wide, is in danger from reduced water flows in the Rio Grande. Not only does a reduced green chile harvest effect our tourism industry, think of the thousands of people that flock to Hatch and follow the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, it also has negative consequences for our rural areas who rely on agriculture as an economic driver.

Employees, seed companies, and farm equipment dealers all depend on a vibrant ag community to create jobs and economic activity. These same dollars fund schools and public safety. State-wide, New Mexico agriculture is worth $3.44 billion and provides jobs for over 149,000 of our citizens. Jobs that are imperiled by a lack of water.

Less water also means fewer locally grown products such as tomatoes and corn at your neighborhood farmers market and fewer New Mexico grown chile, onions, and pecans on our grocery store shelves. And ultimately, the gradual disappearance of farms and ranches that have been in families for generations.

How can a bill that deals with water infrastructure help? The water we need for our homes and businesses, to grow our food and maintain natural habitats, depends on a complex system of dams, reservoirs, canals, pipes, treatment plants and other facilities.

Unfortunately, most of the federal projects that store our water and move it around the state were built over 50 years ago and were not constructed with the current population demands or changing conditions in mind.

To ensure water supply reliability for urban areas, and to keep water flowing to local food production, Congress must allocate funding to bolster deteriorating storage and conveyance facilities for increased efficiency and safety. Expanding our surface and groundwater storage capacity will allow us to capture water during times of excess for use during times of scarcity.

President Biden’s desire for an infrastructure package aligns perfectly with New Mexican’s desire to preserve our agricultural community. We call on Congress to act now in creating a better future for New Mexico and our western neighbors.

Craig Ogden and Glenn Duggins

Craig Ogden farms and ranches near Loving, NM and is the president of New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau. Glen Duggins has been growing chile for 37 years near Lemitar, NM and is the president of the New Mexico Certified Chile Association.