see also post on this site:
2/21 Update: In a stunning turn of events, SB 440 (“Lower Rio Grande Water Rights”) passed the Senate Conservation Committee (SCONC) on a 5-3 vote with no recommendation, with all explanatory and clarifying language stripped from the bill, and after a 4-4 tie on the bill’s first vote call. Two swing Democrats, Senators Richard Martinez and Phil Griego, both from Northern New Mexico, were absent from the vote.
The committee substitute bill that passed is a $120 million appropriation to the Interstate Stream Commission “for expenditure in fiscal year 2014 and subsequent fiscal years to acquire, retire, protect and conserve water rights and conserve water in the lower Rio Grande basin.” There are no specific guidelines provided for how the $120 million shall be used, but it can be reasonably concluded that there remains great risk that it could be used to the detriment of water rights and water supply of upstream communities in the Northern and Middle Rio Grande basins. The good news is that as the bill moves forward to Senate Finance Committee, it should be very hard for Senators to justify breaking New Mexico’s bank on a $120 million “blank check” that (barely) passed Conservation, unsupported by the Attorney General and State Water Engineer, and without recommendation. In terms of public opposition, activists from the New Mexico Acequia Association, League of Conservation Voters, and Food and Water Watch New Mexico spoke out against the bill.
Full text of stripped-down SB 440 that passed SCONC without recommendation
As originally written, Senate Bill 440, sponsored by Senator Joseph Cervantes from Las Cruces, would provide $120 million in public funds to the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) for the purposes of correcting a “severe imbalance” in New Mexico water supply. In essence, it would direct ISC to purchase water rights from private entities in Northern New Mexico and convey that water through Elephant Butte Irrigation District to water users in Southern New Mexico. While the bill also purports to address other aspects of water consumption and use, overall it “provides mechanisms for the ISC to protect water rights, retire water rights, and conserve water to restore a balance among water users in New Mexico” to the detriment of water rights beneficiaries and users in Northern New Mexico.
By providing a massive and irresistible pool of money for water rights to be transferred from North to South, SB 440 is more or less “grand water theft” on a statewide scale, legitimized by greed. See more critical analysis below the 2/19 update and video, with details on the objections raised by the NM Attorney General and Water Engineer.