August 15, 2017

PHOTO: Udall Delivers Keynote Address at NM WRRI’s Annual Water Conference: 'Federal Water Policy and New Mexico: Our Progress and the Challenges Ahead’

Discusses his legislation to improve water policy for NM communities, including the 2017 New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act

SOCORRO, N.M. — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall delivered the keynote address at New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute’s (WRRI) 62nd Annual N.M. Water Conference. In his address, entitled "Federal Water Policy and New Mexico: Our Progress and the Challenges Ahead," Udall discussed the current water challenges facing New Mexico, including climate change, innovative solutions and opportunities for making every drop count, and his work to improve federal water policy to best support New Mexico’s communities.

Udall last addressed the NM WRRI Water Conference in 2012, and afterward issued a comprehensive report recommending 40 proposed actions based on suggestions contributed by the over 500 stakeholder participants. In his remarks today, Udall provided an update on his efforts to improve federal water policy affecting New Mexico communities — including his comprehensive drought legislation, now called the New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act, which he wrote based on the stakeholder recommendations in the 2012 report. Udall reintroduced the bill in June with Senator Martin Heinrich.

“We face a 21st century supply and demand situation. Regional water managers expect that, in the coming decades, we will see water shortages everywhere in our state except the San Juan Basin. In the south, growth around the border zone in Santa Teresa and Las Cruces will drive even more demand for municipal and industrial water. And the climate is warming,” Udall said. "These are big challenges. Tensions can run high over water in the West. … Cooperation will be the only successful strategy -- to prepare for drought, to adapt to climate change, and to modernize our integrated water system. We must balance agriculture use, urban areas, and ecosystem needs."

"We know drought will return,” Udall continued. "Now is the time to prepare."

Udall also provided an update on two other pieces of legislation to improve efficiency and limit waste which emerged from the 2012 conference, the Smart Energy and Water Efficiency Act, and the Water Efficiency Improvement Act. He is optimistic that both bills will move forward this year.

Following his speech, Udall moderated a panel discussion, “Addressing hidden realities of new water opportunities," with several water experts, including Myron Armijo, governor of Santa Ana Pueblo; and Terry Brunner, chief program officer with Grow New Mexico. He also participated in a discussion with his cousin Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist/scholar at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute, about the "Udall Water Legacy" and the influences that have shaped their views on water and Western water policy.

The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below. Illustrations shown during the speech are available here.

Thank you for being part of this annual conference. It’s great to be back with you!

Thank you President Wells and New Mexico Tech for hosting us here -- adjacent to the Rio Grande. This is the ideal backdrop for discussing smart strategies for the enormous water challenges facing our state today.

And a huge thanks to Sam Fernald, Cathy Ortega Klett, and the team for organizing this important get together -- as they have done for many years running, now.

This audience has the technological knowledge -- matched with innovative ideas -- to help ensure a sustainable future for New Mexico water.

I have a great deal of respect for New Mexico’s Institute -- and the other states’ water research institutes.

As a co-sponsor of the legislation to reauthorize these institutes, I am optimistic about its passage and continued solid bipartisan support for funding. I will do my part on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

I am back here -- five years later -- to report back about the progress we’ve made since the 2012 conference.

At that time, we discussed many policy ideas. And afterward, we issued a report full of actions to take.

But before we get into that, I’d like to briefly talk about today’s water resource management landscape. Because that tricky picture shows why we need to come together like this and seek cooperative solutions.

I always like to start with John Wesley Powell’s map of the watersheds in the West. I have this map hanging in my office in Washington. Powell thought state lines should follow those boundaries. And if they didn’t, there would be water problems. Well, he was right.

On top of that, Western water has a 19th century legal framework – with 20th century infrastructure – and 21st century pressures of increasing demand and climate change. Our long-term water supply and consumption are out of balance – even with current conservation efforts. Water professionals here today know this in technical terms. Farmers here know this in personal terms.

First, the legal system – based on the need to develop the West – rewards use, not conservation. Those laws are adapting -- but largely remain on the books.

Next, our 20th century infrastructure is aging. Elephant Butte Dam just celebrated its centennial — and it is not alone. Water lines and treatment plants are many decades old.

Across the country, we have more than $350 billion worth of water infrastructure needs. Much of that is simply maintenance and repair.

Here are some quick statistics on why we should invest:
•For every one dollar we spend on water infrastructure, we return six dollars to our gross domestic product;
•Investment in water infrastructure contributes more than $150 billion each year to annual household income, and;
•Failure to invest in water and wastewater systems will lead to the loss of nearly 500,000 jobs by 2025 and 950,000 jobs by 2040.

The needs I am talking about are not big new dams and pipelines. The era of guaranteed big federal investment in new water projects is largely over. The budget pressures and environmental costs are just too large.

So we need to focus primarily on maintaining the water infrastructure we have. And I hold out hope – and am pushing for – a federal infrastructure package that would help address these needs, especially in the West.

President Trump may not spend a lot of time thinking about the Bureau of Reclamation. But Secretary Zinke does.

And we are doing everything we can to work closely with him on infrastructure. I even went horseback riding with him the other day.

Finally, we face a 21st century supply and demand situation. Regional water managers expect that, in the coming decades, we will see water shortages everywhere in our state except the San Juan Basin. In the south, growth around the border zone in Santa Teresa and Las Cruces will drive even more demand for municipal and industrial water.

And the climate is warming. In the Southwest, we’ve seen a 2.5 degree temperature increase since 1971.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2016 was Earth's warmest year on record. And it was the third year in a row that temperatures broke global records.

The Bureau of Reclamation projects that the Rio Grande Basin will be hit the hardest over the coming century -- warming 5 to 6 degrees by 2100.

That would cut the water flow south of Elephant Butte by half. And that is on top of a similar-size reduction from the San Juan Chama project – based on changes in New Mexico’s Colorado River allocations in low water years.

These are big challenges. Tensions can run high over water in the West. Inter-basin transfers, endangered species, municipal versus rural users, Texas versus New Mexico, the U.S. versus Mexico. The list goes on.

Cooperation will be the only successful strategy -- to prepare for drought, to adapt to climate change, and to modernize our integrated water system. We must balance agriculture use, urban areas, and ecosystem needs.

Five years ago, we came together to discuss policy options to manage water scarcity in New Mexico. At that time, the state was in severe drought.

Your insight and investment helped produce a report. It identified problem areas and made consensus-based policy recommendations, primarily in areas where the federal government can help.

The signature result of that was the 2013 New Mexico Drought Relief Act.

This spring, I reintroduced the bill for the third time, along with Senator Heinrich.

We renamed it the New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act. You can see why. Here’s the most recent map of New Mexico drought conditions – from August 8 of this year. And here’s a map from four years ago – August 6, 2013. A marked – and welcome -- change. But we should be honest with ourselves—with 16 of the last 17 years as the hottest years on record—this reprieve is temporary.

While the drought map looks much better, Dr. Phil King with New Mexico State has made an important point recently.

Groundwater levels have been depressed since 2003, and Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoir are just above 16 percent and 18 percent capacity respectively. Drier conditions are likely our New Normal.

The Drought Act includes provisions to:
•Study the whole Rio Grande Basin with the National Academies of Science,
•Study additional water storage opportunities to provide additional management flexibility,
•Promote voluntary water sharing among stakeholders in the Middle Rio Grande,
•Extend the Emergency Drought Relief Act to allow the Bureau of Reclamation adapt to strained water supplies, and
•Use our current authorities more effectively.

We know drought will return. Now is the time to prepare.

We are making progress with the bill, but Congress is slow. It’s like pushing water up hill.

The Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power has held two hearings on the bill -- one in 2015 and one this June.

We want to get the bill out of committee and through the Senate – as part of a larger package of water bills.

We have also seen progress on parts of the bill in other ways. First has been the annual appropriations process. This year I was able to extend authorization of the Emergency Drought Relief Act to 2022. And we increased the spending cap for water projects by $30 million. We expect it will pass later this year-- and provide flexible operations and planning authority for the whole Reclamation system when there is drought.

We have also included important language and funding -- to help Reclamation with voluntary water leasing efforts in the Middle Rio Grande. This was one of the key pieces of our 2012 report.

Voluntary water sharing helps compensate farmers for stream flows - and avoid more difficult issues with the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, two water efficiency bills came out of our 2012 effort. And both were in an energy bill that passed the Senate last year.

And both bills are very well positioned to move in any energy legislation again this year.

One of the bills, the Smart Energy and Water Efficiency Act, addresses the energy-water nexus -- treating water as an expensive and energy intensive process. Leaks and breaks waste as much as 2 trillion gallons of purified drinking water each year. Water that takes a huge amount of energy—and money—to treat and pump. And then just goes into the ground.

So our bill supports investment in information technology -- that can identify decreases in water pressure, and identify leaks and breaks immediately or even before they occur – to save water, energy and money.

The second bill, the Water Efficiency Improvement Act, would make the EPA’s popular WaterSense program permanent. For those who don’t know, WaterSense is like the EnergyStar label but for water fixtures like faucets and sprinklers.

Since 2006, WaterSense products saved more than 2.1 trillion gallons of water -- and more than $46.3 billion in consumer water and energy bills. Each dollar spent on this program saved consumers an estimated $1,100.

My bipartisan bill would make WaterSense permanent. This legislation is especially needed now because the new Administration wants to eliminate WaterSense.

We’ve also made progress on other proposals from the 2012 Conference Report, including:
•Restarting annual funding to the Transboundary Aquifer Research -- which allows for collaboration and data exchange between Mexican and U.S. partners.
•Funding from the Army Corps of Engineers for the Rio Grande Environmental Management Program -- to repay past commitments to New Mexico towns and cities for water infrastructure.
•Giving acequias and other agricultural users access to additional U.S. Department of Agriculture funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to help unique New Mexico water users update their historic irrigation systems.
•Helping secure $150 million dollars over the last two years for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program. That program provides technical and financial help to support off-farm conservation projects.
•Dedicating a portion of EPA water funding for “green infrastructure.” This uses natural hydrology designs to reduce runoff and contamination at lower costs than traditional—mostly concrete—projects.

The Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority completed a first of its kind project with this funding just last year.

In 2012, the threat of climate change underpinned our conference report. Climate change still inform all we do in terms of water resource management.

The first natural system affected by climate change is water. And that threat is here and now.

We have seen this first-hand in New Mexico – severe droughts, decreased snow pack, flooding caused by uncharacteristically warm winters and springs, and catastrophic fires causing severe erosion and damaging surface water. Climate change impacts are being felt throughout the West. The time to adapt is now.

The science of climate change should not be political. We must make our policy decisions based on the science – and our responsibility to future generations.

You are a cohort of smart, technically savvy, and politically astute water experts. You can help think through the new round of challenges we have -- and work together to solve problems. The stakes are high. But as Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

As your senator, my job is to help groups of thoughtful, committed citizens like you effect that change. So I returned to report on our progress—and I am seeking your feedback for future work.

We are looking for cooperative ideas, not taking sides in conflicts. Rest assured -- we have plenty of conflict in Washington these days.

I am also excited to hear about your success stories. Many of you have accomplished great things in the past five years, and learned a lot that you can share.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Elephant Butte, our Tribes and Pueblos, acequia associations, our arroyo flood control authorities, water utilities and other state and local agencies are working hard on these issues every day. As are conservation groups and academic organizations. Thank you all.

So, my staff and I look forward to your insight and expertise today and tomorrow -- and to working together to make our state’s water supplies more secure for our children and grandchildren.

I have some time for questions, if you would like, before our next presentation.

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