BINGAMAN BILL TO TACKLE NEW MEXICO’S WATER NEEDS GAINS SENATE APPROVAL
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today approved (73-21) legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman that includes measures he wrote to settle a water rights claim in the Four Corners region, construct a pipeline in eastern New Mexico, and help water managers better plan for the future. The measure must gain the approval of the House of Representatives before it can be sent to the president.
One of the bills in the package is legislation Bingaman and Senator Tom Udall have introduced in the past to settle the Navajo Nation’s water rights claims in the San Juan River Basin.
The legislation, called the Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects, reflects a 2005 agreement between the State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, which needs congressional approval. It recognizes approximately 600,000 acre-feet per year of water to the Navajo Nation for agricultural, municipal, industrial, domestic and stock watering purposes. It also authorizes federal funding for the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline project and various water conservation projects in the basin.
Under the proposal, the federal government would contribute funding over about two decades to construct the pipeline and perform other activities to implement the agreement. The bill authorizes $870 million to construct the project, although some of that cost will be paid by the State of New Mexico and the communities served.
The measure also provides an assured source of funding to pay for the project, ensuring that the settlement is implemented. It does this by setting aside surplus revenues in the Reclamation Fund to pay for the Navajo settlement, and future settlements.
“By some estimates, 40 percent of Navajo people living on the Reservation have had to live without readily accessible drinking water supplies, a convenience so many other Americans take for granted. As a result, approximately 40 percent of Navajo people live below the poverty level. This settlement will provide clean drinking water supplies to the Navajo Nation. But it also gives certainty to water users in Gallup, Farmington and the agricultural community,” Bingaman said.
“It is an outrage that 70,000 people on the Navajo Nation, located in the wealthiest nation on earth, do not have easy access to one of the most basic necessities of life: water,” said Udall. “Today, after years of work on this bill, I am glad to say that we are one step closer to eliminating this injustice through a process that will help all of those who depend on northwestern New Mexico’s water supply.”
The package also includes Bingaman’s Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act, which Udall also previously introduced and passed in the House. The measure authorizes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million to assist the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority in the construction of the pipeline. The water will come from the Ute Reservoir, which was built on the Canadian River in 1959 as a sustainable water supply for eastern New Mexico.
A few years after the reservoir was constructed, Congress authorized the study of a pipeline that would transport the water to eastern New Mexico communities that needed it. But it was only in the past few years, with an increasing concern about declining and degrading groundwater resources in the area, that the affected New Mexico communities began in-depth planning for the pipeline.
Under the legislation, the state and the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority (ENMRWA), which represents communities in eastern New Mexico that will benefit from the pipeline, will contribute a total of 25 percent of the cost of construction. The Authority will be responsible for operating and maintaining the pipeline.
“Eastern New Mexico’s future relies heavily on the construction of this pipeline. This legislation means we can do much more than talk about the work we need to do. We can finally begin making this pipeline a reality,” Bingaman said.
“With the Senate’s passage of the Ute Pipeline legislation, the goal of so many eastern New Mexico community leaders is closer to being realized,” said Udall. “I was proud to collaborate with them and Senator Bingaman to create this legislation and now to help secure its passage through the Senate. I hope the House will now move swiftly to help ensure that eastern New Mexico continues to have the resources it needs for a vibrant and secure future.”
Communities that will be served by the pipeline include: Grady, Clovis, Melrose, Texico, Portales, Elida, Cannon Air Force Base, and other potential locations in Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties.
Another of the bills included in the package is one Bingaman and Udall introduced for the first time last year to improve the aging water infrastructure on pueblo lands.
The Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act would give the Bureau of Reclamation the authority to work with any of New Mexico’s tribes to assess pueblo irrigation infrastructure and initiate projects to rehabilitate and repair the infrastructure as needed. Recognizing the limited resources available within Reclamation, the bill also directs the Commissioner of Reclamation to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers to identify opportunities to use the authorities of those agencies to collaborate on projects that make sense to all involved.
“These irrigation systems have long sustained New Mexico’s Rio Grande pueblos. The time has come to rehabilitate this aging infrastructure and conserve water in the process, and this bill will help accomplish that goal,” Bingaman said.
“In order to preserve the tradition and way of life of New Mexico’s tribes, their communities must have access to a safe and modern irrigation infrastructure,” said Udall. “I hope the House now passes this key legislation to provide our tribes with the tools they need to improve water conservation efforts for the future and continue tribal agriculture production.”
The package includes Bingaman’s SECURE Water Act which aims to improve water management and increase the acquisition and analysis of water-related data to better understand critical water resources, particularly in arid parts of the country.
“Population increases and climate change are just two factors that could affect water availability in the future. The SECURE Water Act will help water managers and users get a much better sense of how to meet the nation’s water needs,” Bingaman said.
Udall strongly supports the SECURE Water Act. “With global warming threatening to transform our Western climate and way of life, New Mexico must be prepared to adapt to survive,” said Udall. “This legislation will help us gain a solid understanding of the changes we face so we can meet our challenges head-on.”
The bill requires an expansion of the National Streamflow Information Program and the development of a systematic groundwater monitoring program. The bill also directs the U.S. Geological Survey to formally establish a water use and availability assessment program consistent with recommendations made by the National Research Council.
The bill also takes into account the impacts of global climate change on water resources. Reports from the last several seasons indicate that increasing temperatures are resulting in less snowpack in many regions, changing the timing of snow-melt runoff and underscoring the need for more data like the kind prescribed in the bill. At a Capitol Hill hearing on climate change and water held by the Energy Committee, the USGS indicated that current climate models are also projecting a long-term drying trend in the Southwest - the fastest growing region in the country.
To help address this issue the bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to establish an intra-governmental panel to link the scientific community and water managers to improve water availability forecasts and to implement adaptation strategies. The legislation also requires the Bureau of Reclamation to initiate a climate change adaptation program to develop strategies and conduct feasibility studies to address water shortages, conflicts and other impacts to water users and the environment. In addition, both Reclamation and the Department of Energy are directed to assess the effects of climate change on the water supplies needed for hydropower production, which represents the source of at least 7 percent of the nation’s electricity supply.
Additionally, the bill authorizes the Bureau of Reclamation to provide financial assistance to states, tribes and local entities to construct improvements or take actions to increase water use efficiencies in response to drought, climate change and other water-related crises.
Finally, the package contains a measure Bingaman wrote to continue a project that works to restore the Rio Puerco -- one of state’s largest tributaries to the Rio Grande. Specifically, the bill reauthorizes the Río Puerco Watershed Management Program, which Bingaman first wrote into law in 1996. Over the past decade, it has helped restore much of the 7,000 square-mile degraded watershed. The bill introduced today will authorize funding over the next ten years to continue watershed restoration efforts.