For Immediate Release
February 13, 2017
Allyson Siwik, Executive Director
575.538.8078 office; 575.590.7619 cell
State senators introduce NM Unit Fund Legislative Authorization Bill
SB340 holds Interstate Stream Commission accountable for wasteful spending
Santa Fe, NM –Senator Howie Morales (D, District 28), Senator Sander Rue (R, District 23) and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D, District 25) introduced Senate Bill 340 to require legislative oversight over the use of the NM Unit Fund and force the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) to be accountable for wasteful spending on planning for a Gila River diversion project. The bipartisan bill will be heard first in the Senate Conservation Committee.
SB340 would require legislatively approved budgets for use of the NM Unit Fund and force the ISC to report the details of its actual and planned uses of the fund. To date, the ISC has spent $11 million fruitlessly in the absence of real legislative budget oversight.
Additionally, the bill would prohibit ISC expenditures from the NM Unit Fund on any diversion and storage project unless it had (1) determined the project is technically feasible; (2) determined how much water the project could produce and who would use it; and (3) produced an engineering estimate of the project’s cost and a plan to pay for it. Further, the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) would have to issue a report supporting the financial implementation plan for a diversion project to go forward. Finally, each year the ISC would have to provide a detailed report on its spending from the past fiscal year and planned future spending.
“The legislature needs to exert its authority to appropriate funds from the NM Unit Fund and provide oversight to stop the ISC’s wasteful expenditures on a technically infeasible and unaffordable Gila River diversion,” said Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition.
“A water development project planning process normally defines a specific, feasible physical configuration of a water project, establishes the yield of project water, and states how the water will be used and what it will cost. It’s not reasonable for New Mexico to embark on engineering design and federal permitting estimated by the ISC to cost $20 million through FY2020 without first having determined these basic project planning attributes,” stated former Interstate Stream Commission director Norm Gaume.
“There is more than $40 million in the NM Unit Fund and it should instead be used to implement worthy infrastructure improvements and conservation projects, many of which are shovel-ready. Given our state’s dire financial situation, funding these projects could immediately create hundreds of jobs and economic benefits in southwestern New Mexico,” stated Siwik.
In 2004 Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA), which authorizes diversion of the Gila River by the NM Unit if New Mexico agrees to pay for delivery of equal amounts of federal water to Arizona. The AWSA provides ten equal annual payments totaling $90 million dollars from the Bureau of Reclamation to the NM Unit Fund. These funds can pay for any water project that meets a water supply need in Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, and Luna Counties.
In November 2014, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) voted to notify the Secretary of the Interior that it intended to have the NM Unit constructed. New Mexico formed the NM CAP Entity (CAPE) comprised of 13 local entities in southwest New Mexico (and the ISC) and charged it with the responsibility of proposing a design for the NM Unit.
The ISC and the CAPE have looked unsuccessfully for a viable diversion and storage project on the Gila River–despite spending over $11 million to date of the federal money. They have not yet estimated the yield of new water, a topic described by a May 2014 independent engineering review for the ISC as one of three “serious technical challenges or potential fatal flaws.” Worse, the ISC has given lip service to cost-effective non-diversion/conservation projects; they have given only small grants and hobbled almost all of the projects with onerous matching fund requirements. Yet, the ISC has estimated that it will spend $20 million from the NM Unit Fund on NM Unit federal permitting.
The legislature has the power to make appropriations from NM Unit Fund and it must provide legislative oversight to rein in the ISC’s wasteful spending.