Acequia Capital Projects Vetoed by Governor

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After the State Legislature had appropriated nearly $1 million for local acequia projects, acequias took a major hit from Governor Susana Martinez when she vetoed all of the individual acequia projects. With the stroke of a pen, acequia funding was vetoed for 25 individual projects totaling about $836,000. The following is the text of the Governor’s veto message:

It is important to note that in this year’s capital outlay bill, I vetoed numerous small projects to improve acequias and ditches throughout the state. These projects tend to appear in each year’s capital legislation and are usually funded at levels far lower than what is actually needed to complete the intended work. Unfortunately, acequia funding also tends to be some of the hardest money to get expended in a timely manner. For all of these reasons, I vetoed acequia projects, with the hope that these entities would utilize two funds in state government instead that are specifically designed to support acequia projects and ensure that they are done in a technically sound manner. The two acequia funds are at the Office of the State Engineer Interstate Stream Commission and at the Water Trust Board within the New Mexico Finance Authority, both of which have substantial available funding. I appreciate the importance of acequias to our way of life in New Mexico and believe that utilizing a different funding approach (one that comes with requisite support) will ultimately improve our acequias in more substantial ways.

NMAA has agreed with lawmakers and the Governor that the Capital Outlay process should be reformed. However, by vetoing acequia projects before the reforms are made, the Governor rendered the existing process unfair by suggesting that any acequia is not eligible or qualified to obtain Capital Outlay. It is true that there are other funding programs available to acequias, but excluding acequias from Capital Outlay from one year to the next was a very abrupt change in policy for the Martinez administration.

NMAA agrees that acequias are better served by having well-prepared plans and engineering designs as well as complete funding for construction of acequia projects, or functional phases of those projects. The fact is that acequias have been well-aware of this need and, along with state and federal agencies, acequias have made great strides in working toward this goal:
• Of the 25 project that were vetoed, 17 of them were for acequias that had completed Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plans (ICIPs).
• Several of the acequia projects vetoed were from acequias that have a successful track record of completing past projects. They have successfully matched Capital Outlay with a variety of state, federal, and local sources and completed projects.
• Some of the projects had engineering designs available for the construction phase of the project or are in the process of completing those designs. Acequias in many cases are utilizing resources from the NRCS, Interstate Stream Commission, or past Capital Outlay appropriations to complete their designs.

The fact is that in 2016, there are more acequias involved in the ICIP planning process than at any other time in the past, suggesting that they are making incremental changes that will be necessary as the Capital Outlay process is reformed through changes in public policy. Acequia leadership has been anticipating the opportunity to provide input to legislative or administrative changes that could lead to Capital Outlay reform and has much to offer as those policies relate to acequias. However, in her veto message, the Governor is suggesting that acequias will not be eligible for Capital Outlay and that acequias should apply to the Water Trust Board or the Interstate Stream Commission.

• The 90-10 program of the Interstate Stream Commission is a successful program and should continue. NMAA generally advises that this program one of their primary sources of funding. With a dedicated but small staff, the ISC has successfully completed numerous acequia projects.
• On the other hand, the Water Trust Board may not be the best funding option for acequias, as the current policies stand. The application for the main pool of funding is highly competitive forcing acequias to be ranked against better equipped and staffed entities such as agencies and municipalities. An acequia project fund at the Water Trust Board and NMFA has never been funded by the legislature. Presumably, if funding were appropriated to the acequia project fund, the WTB would have application guidelines suited to acequias. That may be a worthwhile goal for acequias, the State Legislature, and the Water Trust Board for the coming year.

The Governor’s message can serve to open a dialogue on an improved process to fund acequias but it is important to acknowledge that some acequias are working diligently to have well-planned projects and to complete engineering designs before they apply for construction funding. Acequia leadership has good insights about how the funding process can be reformed and we can build on the positive relationships built in past years with state and federal agencies that work with acequias. Some of the policy objectives for the coming years could include the following:

• Support the continuation of the ISC 90-10 Program which is funded through the Irrigation Works Construction Fund
• Support appropriations to the Acequia Project Fund of the Water Trust Board for future acequia projects.
• Through interagency collaboration, ensure every acequia gets the technical assistance needed to have either an engineering design (or design specifications for simpler projects) and assistance and training on project management.
• Continue to allow acequias to receive Capital Outlay funding and provide clear and specific guidelines so that acequias (and the policymakers who appropriate the funds) can plan accordingly.