Acequias succeeded in passing four critical pieces of legislation that affirm acequia governance, improve transparency and due process at the Office of the State Engineer, and establish a stable revenue stream for acequia infrastructure. Acequia leaders from around the state attended hearings and gave testimony about the importance of these important policy changes. Several other partners also showed their support for the legislation, thereby helping to gain the support of legislators from across the state. The following four bills each passed both the House and Senate and are on the Governor’s desk.
Please call Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and ask that she sign the acequia and water bills! Call 505-476-2200.
- SB 438/HB 517 (Cisneros, Campos, Romero, Gonzales) Acequia and Community Ditch Irrigation Fund – This legislation would create a fund of $2.5 million per year for the ISC Acequia Program. For years, the ISC has received an annual appropriation for the acequia program, which has been typically $1.9 million but it has been lower in some years. The purpose of this year’s legislation is to ensure that there is recurring revenue from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund for acequia projects with an increase from $1.9 to $2.5 million. This will stabilize the funding for future years.
- SB 12 (Cisneros-Salazar) Water Notifications Online –This legislation will require that the Office of the State Engineer post notices of water applications on the agency website in addition to the current requirement of publishing in the newspaper. This will contribute to the protection of due process rights of those whose water rights might be affected by a water right decision by the State Engineer. This applies to new appropriations and water transfers.
- HB 17 (Chandler-Wirth) Water Leases and Water Uses – This legislation, in its original form, would have clarified that the State Engineer cannot approve a permit for a water lease until all requirements for public hearings have been met. This bill is in response to what NMAA has determined is an unlawful practice of approving leases without due process protections for water right owners potentially impaired. The bill was narrowed down substantially with language that clarifies that any water leases into or out of acequia require acequia approval, provided the acequia has the authorizing language in their bylaws.
- HB 379 (Chandler) Acequia Liens – This legislation would clarify that an acequia can obtain a money judgement from a Magistrate Court that can serve as a lien on property that has delinquencies. It simplifies the process of obtaining a lien so that it would no longer be necessary to go through District Court. It also has protections for the parciante by requiring notice and that the acequia release the lien when the delinquencies are paid.
The 2019 session will be remembered for sweeping legislation on education, tax policy, renewable energy, criminal justice reform, and public safety. Among all the legislation introduced, water, agriculture, and natural resource issues were included among the nearly 1,300 pieces of legislation introduced. Most of the bills were versions of legislation introduced from past years while there were also a few new initiatives that gained traction. The following is a summary of bills that passed:
- SB 5 Interstate Stream Commission Membership. This would change the composition of the ISC by specifying which sectors of water stakeholders and experts will have seats on the commission. The bill includes one seat out for an acequia representative. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HB 37 No LEDA Funds for Water Rights Purchases. This legislation would prohibit the use of funds from the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) from being used to purchase water rights. NMAA supported this bill because LEDA funds should be to strengthen local economies, not to take from an existing agricultural economy to lure an outside industry to the community. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HB 651 Water Data Act. This legislation creates a water data council with agencies and higher education institutions to standardize the management of water data in the state. The bill directs the council to develop consistent water data standards and best practices for data collection. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HB 204 Healthy Soils Act – This legislation would create a new program at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt practices that support healthy soils. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HB 581 Hemp Manufacturing Act. This legislation would expand commercial use of hemp and create a structure to regulate the production, testing, and manufacturing of hemp. The legislation would enable the growth of hemp as a potentially lucrative industry in New Mexico. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HB 266 Forest Restoration Fund. This legislation will support watershed health and forest restoration with funds to support on the ground projects. NMAA supported the concept of the bill but was unable to prevent the use the Irrigation Works Construction Fund. However, a compromise led to language in the budget bill that solvency issues of the Irrigation Works Construction Fund would be addressed in the next five years. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HB 315 Agricultural Workforce Development Act. Appropriates $250,000 to NMSU to administer an internship program for new and beginning farmers to get paid to work with existing farmers and ranchers. Passed and on the Governor’s desk.
- HM 81 Rural Heritage Act Process – This memorial is intended to convene stakeholders who were involved in HB 332 Rural Heritage act. This legislation would have addressed the issues of rising property tax values in areas with historic agricultural lands by creating another category of taxation (unimproved lands). Lands in this category would be eligible for a special method that values the land at 25% of residential value. The bill faced some technical issues and a memorial HM 81 was introduced to bring stakeholder together to continue work on the concept.