Officials putting water on agenda

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Record gas and oil revenues left the state with a bloated budget and some area officials agree this is the year to fund a solution to New Mexico’s water woes.

Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega visited the state capitol Saturday and lobbied for a permanent water trust fund, alongside other regional mayors, community leaders and state legislators.

“(Saturday) was a great success. Several communities and legislators came together with one voice. We need to address water and this is the year to do that,” Ortega said.

Exceptional revenue from oil and gas leases afford solutions this year to a problem recognized more than 40 years ago, Ortega said.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, agrees.

“Water is an appropriate use of the windfalls,” he said.
Clovis and Portales pump water from the Ogallala aquifer, which hydrologists say is rapidly depleting.

In the last three years, more wells have been created, however fewer gallons of water are being pumped, Ortega said. Hydrologists estimate it’ll be dry in the next 12 to 20 years, Ortega said.

“We know we have a depleting aquifer; we need to work on finding a renewable source for eastern New Mexico,” Ortega said.

The renewable solution is a pipeline to Ute Lake, a man-made reservoir constructed in the mid-1960s.

“We are committed to making this (the Ute Lake pipeline) a reality,” Ortega said.

Harden also wants a water solution funded, and is optimistic.

“I want the money to go into a solution. I think the right people are working on dollars going into state-wide water projects,” he said.

Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, sponsors a bill to appropriate $70 million to the Ute Pipeline project, and declares the water problem an “emergency.”

The bill unanimously passed through two legislative committees. Now in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, HB 121 would distribute $280 million across the state to seven, separate water projects. Unused money would revert back into the general fund, according to the bill.

The Ute Pipeline project is appropriated the most funds.

Another House bill calls for $180 million of the state’s general fund to be allocated to the water trust fund for subsequent water spending. It passed unopposed through one committee and next goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

A bill to appoint a task force of 23 legislators, citizens and finance experts to identify funding mechanisms of the water trust fund passed through committee and next enters the Senate for a vote.

The Ogallala aquifer, which also supplies much of the South Plains its water, has been regionally pumped for hundreds of years, Ortega said.

“Our communities are really growing; we need that water resource to meet the demands of the future,” he said.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford was scheduled to attend the meeting. He could not be reached for comment.

Legislative round-up:
• The house approved a bill to fund a new judge in the 9th Judicial District. House Bill 337 allocates $2.2 million for judges, equipment and staff in selected areas throughout the state; and over $1 1/2 million for the offices of district attorneys and public defenders. The new 9th Judicial District judge (and staff) would hold a principle office in Roosevelt County, and would be funded by $313,566, the bill said.

• Like the methamphetamine ordinance already in effect locally, a bill which would label pseudoephedrine “a controlled substance,” and restrict the sale of many cold and sinus medications statewide, passed through the House Saturday. HB 211 requires consumers buying many pseudoephedrine products sign a log and show identification. Pseudoephedrine can be used to make methamphetamine.

• A bill sponsored by Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, would standardize sentences handed down to convicted methamphetamine manufacturers. The bill passed through two committees and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

• A bill to standardize penalties for convicted methamphetamine traffickers, passed through two House committees and will next go to the House for a vote.

• A bill to legalize medical marijuana, called the Lynn Pierson Compassionate Use Act, passed through the Senate and three committees. It next goes to the House Agriculture Committee. A panel of doctors would approve every prescription, under the bill, for patients with the following debilitating medical conditions: AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, people with specific neurological damage, epilepsy and any other conditions approved by the board. Marijuana would be cultivated by licensed marijuana producers on secure production facilities in New Mexico.

• A bill to decrease the number of New Mexicans without health insurance (21 percent) unanimously passed in the Senate Saturday, according to a release from the New Mexico Human Services Department. Senate Bill 381, gives employers the option of providing workers insurance through the State Coverage Insurance Program, among other Health Insurance Alliance options, the release said.

• A bill for DNA to be taken along with fingerprints in all felony arrests passed through three committees and will next go the Senate Finance Committee. DNA and fingerprints would be taken before the accused is released from detention.

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Andy Jackson