The most significant piece of legislation for acequias passed in the 2019 session was the passage of SB 438 creating the Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund. The sponsors of the bill (and the House companion bill HB 517) were Senator Carlos Cisneros, Senator Pete Campos, Senator Richard Martinez, Representative Andrea Romero, and Representative Bobby Gonzales. Strong supporters included Representatives Susan Herrera and Joseph Sanchez who also helped move the bill through the legislative process.
The Acequia and Community Ditch Infrastructure Fund will be administered by the Interstate Stream Commission. The funding would be appropriated from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund and would be used for planning, design, and construction of acequia infrastructure projects.
The new fund builds on the existing acequia program at the ISC. The bill seeks to institutionalize recurring annual funding for the acequia projects through the Interstate Stream Commission. For more than 25 years, HB 2 has included a year-to-year appropriation for the ISC acequia program from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund, which according to Section 72-14-23, NMSA 1978 is intended for irrigation infrastructure. The annual appropriation has usually been $1.9 million but there have been some years when the NMAA has had to protect that appropriation from budget cuts. The rationale for the creation of the new fund is to ensure that the funding for the ISC acequia program is stable and recurring at a predictable amount.
The existing ISC acequia program has a long track record of successful completion of projects. Since the late 1980s, the ISC has administered acequia projects by ensuring that such projects have an engineering design, where needed, or design specifications prior to approving a project to proceed with construction. Currently, the program is staffed by two engineers who have the qualifications to review engineering designs and to assist acequias in managing their projects. The ISC also assists with inspections of construction during and after construction.
The ISC acequia program is a good complement to federal funding that is available as a cost share. It is also a good alternative or complement to Capital Outlay funding because it provides a more reliable stream of funding that is available for acequia projects.
Currently, the ISC program is part of several partnerships to leverage state and federal funding as well as technical assistance resources. The ISC partners with the NM Association of Conservation Districts and the New Mexico Acequia Association to conduct outreach to acequias and to assist acequias with infrastructure planning, applying for funding, and completing projects.
Having a statutory fund that provides reliable, recurring revenue to the acequia program at the ISC will contribute to positive outcomes for acequias who are working to improve irrigation efficiency. The new fund will not be in effect until FY21 because the FY20 budget already had a $1.9 appropriation for the ISC acequia program. Also, the bill requires that the ISC develop guidelines for the program based on input from the New Mexico Acequia Commission and the New Mexico Acequia Association.