As the state office of the National Audubon Society in New Mexico, Audubon Southwest’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, at benefit of humanity and the Earth’s biological diversity.
New Mexico had an unprecedented $8.5 billion budget to work through this year’s legislative session. Fiscal 2022 provided the perfect scenario and timing to invest in water programs and consolidate current water and infrastructure data. Unfortunately, many water programs in the state have not received large enough funding increases, which puts us even further behind in our efforts to respond to New Mexico’s severe water crisis.
Water is life in New Mexico, and that life is under threat. We are the fourth driest state in the country and we are getting drier every year. We hear daily news about the ongoing drought, difficulty accessing clean water in some communities, litigation between Texas and New Mexico over the Rio Grande Compact, and low water levels at the reservoir. ‘Elephant Butte. All of these events are indicators that the incredible wildlife that thrives in New Mexico, our beautiful landscapes, our traditional communities, and our agricultural practices are in trouble. The fate of future generations is directly linked to the way in which the State adapts its management of water resources today.
New Mexico needs to update its water infrastructure and management, fully fund water programs, and plan for a persistent drought by reducing use and making sure rivers flow. Reserving water for future shortages is also a critical – and underfunded – need. Eighty percent of our species at risk depend directly on land near rivers and streams, and the Governor is committed to protecting biodiversity and preserving sensitive ecosystems. It’s a step in the right direction, but we need to do more.
Voters clearly support measures to address water issues in a meaningful way. As a recent poll released by the Thornburg and Water Foundations shows, 75% of New Mexico voters want action taken now to ensure that future generations continue to have an adequate water supply. The survey also shows that 74% of voters support increased investment in water infrastructure, 68% support the use of the Outstanding Natural Resource Waters program which grants state protection to certain special waters, and 84% support updating water data while making it accessible to the public.
We missed a golden opportunity this legislative session to make meaningful progress in solving the water crisis, but it’s not too late. We know we have to act now and the public supports it, so let’s do it. The Legislature, Governor’s Office, and advocacy groups must begin preparing for the 60-day session of 2023. It will provide another opportunity to equip public bodies with innovative policy tools and the funding to implement them. . We must work together to meet the challenges of the 21st century in the use, protection and storage of water. Audubon Southwest will work to support legislation to fully fund water programs, prepare for prolonged drought, and modernize state water management. For the sake of our economy, our environment and our public health, we must prepare for the water challenges that lie ahead. If we want to have a future, we must act today.