Summary: SB 1 Regional Water System Resiliency, introduced by Senator Peter Wirth and co-sponsored with Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Susan Herrera, provides a legal framework to authorize the voluntary creation of regional water authorities for regional collaboration of small domestic water and/or wastewater associations and improve their capacity for water management across the state.
- Many small water systems across New Mexico struggle to provide safe drinking water and reliable wastewater treatment.
- “When systems run dry, it creates an extraordinarily difficult situation” – Sen. Wirth
- Capital outlay funding for small rural communities, e.g., for water and wastewater replacement, not being spent because they lack the capacity for technical, financial and managerial expertise.
- They may not have the capacity to plan upgrades and replacements, get them designed, secure financing, and get them built. They buy duplicate equipment.
- Certified water and wastewater operators are hard to find.
- Some small systems cannot properly operate and maintain their infrastructure.
- According to SB1 co-sponsor Herrera of HD41, she has ended up spending 70% of her time helping the poorer communities in her D41 try to address their water and wastewater issues.
- Most mutual domestic water associations are serving under 100 customers, but economies of scale require at least 500 users, according to Herrera.
How can SB1 address these challenges
This bill implements Recommendations 1.2 and 1.4 from the State Engineer’s task force on Water Policy and Infrastructure (WP&I TF), specifically:
1.2 Promote and incentivize regional collaboration – from informal to formal arrangements – by drinking water and wastewater systems through administration of existing funding programs, prioritization of technical assistance investments, and clear laws and processes that preserve local flexibility.
1.4 Close the gap for drinking water and wastewater systems that need targeted funding to address emergency needs, such as short-term water outages brought on by wildfires and extreme drought.
“Collaboration between small drinking water and wastewater systems serving adjacent communities—ranging from informal to formal arrangements—can help them overcome the economies of scale that larger systems take for granted.” From WP&I TF
The Regional Water System Resiliency Act would authorize such formal arrangements. The bill provides a legal framework that allows small drinking water and wastewater systems serving adjacent communities to voluntarily form regional water authorities.
Potentially 100 communities in the State could benefit from this bill (from the testimony of SB1 expert witness Ramon Lucero on 1/24/23)
A Regional Water Authority would be a political subdivision of the state, governed by a Board of Directors. An authority would:
• Own, regulate, supervise, operate, and maintain the infrastructure and assets of the systems that transferred to regional water authority ownership
• Employ an executive director who may employ and retain the necessary staff
• Centralize financial matters, including billing customers
• Establish water and wastewater service rates
• Apply for federal and state funding assistance
• Generally, regional collaboration would realize economies of scale