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New Water Law Going Into Effect in July 2023 Enables New Mexicans to Band Together To Provide Improved Water Resources

The 2023 New Mexico Legislative Session saw the enactment of the Regional Water System Resiliency Act, which enables the creation of regional water authorities to strengthen New Mexico’s aging water infrastructure by enabling water user associations and other entities, to create partnerships to facilitate the enhancement of their collectives water infrastructure as recognized political subdivisions of the state of New Mexico.

The law, which was sponsored by Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), Senator Liz Stefanics (D-Cerillos), and Representative Susan Herrera (D-Embudo), and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham, enables New Mexico’s many mutual water user associations and other water entities, to pool their resources to provide better services to water users in their jurisdictions by, for example, creating authorities large enough to support hiring staff to administer their water services instead of relying on volunteers. The legislation will help communities across New Mexico to access more resources by combining their capabilities, which include seeking funding for repairs and expertise to apply for and secure funding. For example, the law enables as few as two water associations to create a water authority to administer their respective and various needs, including hiring paid staff to seek state and federal monies to enhance their water users’ water infrastructure.

Across New Mexico, and especially in northern New Mexico, aging water systems and stress caused by drought will require additional resources to maintain and enhance existing services. The Regional Water System Resiliency Act will enable water associations to band together to professionalize their water resources administration and will also have the benefit of creating critical jobs in New Mexico’s rural areas.

The Regional Water System Resiliency Act will require water associations to comply with its specific requirements. For example, each water association must adopt a particular resolution (following at least two public hearings), identify a particular water association to act as its registered agent, the adoption of articles of incorporation or bylaws, and compliance with the requirements of the New Mexico Secretary of State. Importantly, rural water associations may have to transfer their assets to the newly created water authority, which will require the merging associations to craft agreements to facilitate the transfer of assets.

In addition, the service area recognized by the Office of the New Mexico State Engineer (OSE) will have to be updated and approved by the OSE and any issues related to non-joining associations will have to be addressed. Importantly, matters related to water rights and water rights records will also have to updated and filed with the OSE.

Water authorities will also have to establish their governance and jurisdictional powers in terms of what facilities they will own and operate, establish an elected board of directors—including electoral districts, establish board policies, determine fees for their users, acquire water rights, hold quarterly meetings, establish hiring policies, enter into contracts with other entities in their areas (joint power agreements), and otherwise comply with various New Mexico laws. The law goes into effect in July 2023.

If you would like assistance benefitting from and complying with the Regional Water System Resiliency Act, contact Beatty & Wozniak P.C.’s water and corporate legal professionals.

About the author: Miguel Suazo is an energy and environmental lawyer and native New Mexican who grew up working on and supporting the acequias and rural water associations of northern New Mexico.