October 12, 2018

Udall, Heinrich Secure Vital Drought Provisions for NM in Water Infrastructure Bill

Senators also secure new ecosystem restoration project for Española Valley, improve reimbursements for NM communities, and advance other important NM & Tribal water resource projects

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined the full Senate in voting 99-1 to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a bill that authorizes Army Corps of Engineers water projects nationwide and includes core provisions of Udall and Heinrich’s New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act, among other New Mexico benefits.  Last month, the House voted to unanimously approve the water infrastructure bill. The bill now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law. 

Drought provisions secured by Udall and Heinrich will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of water management across the state by granting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers more flexibility to manage the Rio Grande river to address drought, analyzing more collaborative management of New Mexico’s water resources, and including long-term authorization of the WaterSense program which provides voluntary certification of high efficiency water appliances.  The Trump administration had earlier proposed drastic cuts or even elimination of the WaterSense program.

For New Mexico projects, the new WRDA authorizes a “new start” for the Army Corps to construct a bosque ecosystem restoration project in the Española Valley in partnership with two pueblos, prioritizes reimbursements of central New Mexico local communities for past water projects undertaken with the Army Corps, and calls for robust future funding of rural water projects in New Mexico. Udall and Heinrich also championed the extension and increase in funding authorization for the nationwide Tribal Partnership Program and the regional Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program, both of which New Mexico tribes and pueblos will benefit from. 

“In New Mexico, we live by the saying ‘agua es vida’ – water is life – because for our state, water is a precious resource that is essential to preserving our economy, environment, and way of life,” said Udall, the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. “But the effects of climate change, from higher temperatures to reduced precipitation, have made our landscape hotter and drier, putting a strain on our already scarce water supply. Severe drought has had ripple effects across our state, jeopardizing everything from tourism and recreation to local agriculture and public health. That’s why Senator Heinrich and I fought so hard for provisions of the New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act to be included in this legislation. This bill secures key funding and authorizes vital water resource projects to provide us with more flexibility in managing water resources and planning for drought conditions. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ll continue fighting for investment in critical infrastructure to secure clean, safe water for communities in every corner of our state.”

“We all know that water is life in New Mexico,” said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m proud to support this critical funding for drought-preparedness and major water infrastructure projects all across our state. I’m particularly pleased that we were able to secure provisions that prioritize the water needs of rural, tribal, and low-income communities. As we confront the impacts of climate change and prolonged drought conditions, New Mexicans require cost effective, science-based solutions to our water challenges. I will continue to fight for resources, infrastructure investments, and forward-looking policies that support long-term, sustainable use of our precious and limited water resources.”

Udall and Heinrich reintroduced the New Mexico Drought Preparedness Act last year after consulting with a range of stakeholders, including farmers, ranchers, Tribes, municipalities, water experts, and other community members. Two provisions from that bill were included in the Water Resources Development Act: The Cochiti Dam Temporary Deviation and the National Academies of Sciences Study.

New Mexico priorities championed by Udall and Heinrich in the Water Resources Development Act include:

Drought Related Provisions:

• Cochiti Dam Temporary Deviation: Continues water supplementation projects from Cochiti Lake for an additional five years to provide greater operational flexibility for irrigation, municipal and industrial purposes, and supports endangered species by providing the water and habitat they need to survive

• National Academies of Science Study: The legislation will also direct the National Academies of Science to conduct a comprehensive hydrologic study of the Rio Grande Basin to identify opportunities for water conservation, optimization of water storage for irrigators and cities, and ecosystem benefits. The study will also evaluate the impact of climate change on the basin.

• WaterSense: Includes Udall’s S. 1700, which creates the legislative framework for the existing WaterSense program at the EPA. WaterSense is a voluntary program that promotes water conservation by labeling certain products that meet strict performance criteria and save more water than other products in their same category. 

New Mexico Project Provisions: 

• Española Valley Ecosystem Restoration: Authorizes $62 million in total funding for environmental restoration of 280 acres of bosque landscape along the Rio Grande on Santa Clara and Ohkay Owingeh lands.  This ecosystem restoration project will also address flood risk with the use of native vegetation and habitat along the Rio Grande through Santa Clara and Ohkay Owingeh. The cost share for the project borne by the Pueblos is 35%. 

• Direction to finish reimbursements to counties and cities:  The bill directs projects which are reimbursed under Section 593 (central New Mexico) to be the a high priority for payback in the Corps budget process.  This will benefit the Town of Bernalillo, Bernalillo County, the City of Rio Rancho, and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, each of which are awaiting reimbursement from the Corps.

• Rural Water Infrastructure Projects: The legislation directs robust future appropriations funding for Section 595 New Mexico projects -- or rural water infrastructure projects in New Mexico and other western states. Section 595 projects provide design and construction assistance to non-federal interests for water-related environmental infrastructure and resource protection and development projects.  These funds have helped cities like Alamogordo address stormwater drainage.

Tribal Water Provisions:

• Tribal Partnership Program: Increases authorization to $12.5 million for this nationwide program that authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to work collaboratively with tribes and pueblos to study the feasibility of water resource projects that will substantially benefit tribal members. Projects may address flood damage reduction, environmental restoration and protection, and preservation of cultural and natural resources. Historically, New Mexico has been one of the largest beneficiaries of this program.

• Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program:  This section annual authorizes $20 million in grants to carry out a program consisting of 20 projects for Indian tribes on reservations in the Upper Missouri River Basin and Upper Rio Grande Basin to connect, repair, or expand existing drinking water services or improve water quality, pressure, or other water services.

Congress typically passes WRDA every two years to authorize water resource projects across the nation for flood protection, navigation, ecosystem restoration, and more. The bill covers projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Bureau of Reclamation water projects and tribal water settlements are typically handled in separate legislation.