Water conservation

The timing aligns perfectly with the proposed retention obligation | Editorials


Sometimes the timing is right.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, candidate for re-election next year, is looking for an iconic achievement to polish her campaign resume.

Meanwhile, conservation, environment and preservation groups have searched for years for a way to pay for a variety of programs and projects that have languished with little to no funding as the state responds to a range other needs, such as schools, libraries and seniors. centers.

Hence their joy when his administration recently announced that the governor would ask the next session of the legislature to approve a $ 50 million property tax obligation for an initiative to maintain healthy watersheds in reduce the growing risk of forest fires and improve biodiversity, all of which are becoming increasingly more difficult with the warming and drying up of New Mexico’s climate.

If Lujan Grisham and supporters of the idea can get it through in the 30-day legislative session to be held in Santa Fe next month – not a slam dunk – voters in the November election would be asked to endorse the first one. New Mexico statewide conservation bond, creating a secure source of funding for projects to improve the environmental health of our state.

Scott Wilber, executive director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy, has reason to believe voters would accept him.

On the one hand, he said, “it would have a fairly minimal fiscal impact on property taxes. “

Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of state in the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, said the property tax levy to pay off the bond would cost the average household $ 2 spread over 25 years, or pennies per year.

On the other hand, Wilber said, polls over the past decade have shown strong support for spending on water quality and quantity and on wildlife and land conservation. And in a more recent poll by another conservation group, he said, “climate change has appeared.”

The administration and donors therefore rely on public support for things like forest and watershed restoration, tree thinning, preservation of historic sites, improvement of agricultural soils to increase harvest of carbon, purchase and set aside of land for the conservation and expansion of outdoor recreation.

Civil servants must now apply for funding each year to the legislature, apply for grants or withdraw money from disposable income, a haphazard proposition depending on the economy.

Although the state is currently teeming with cash, advocates want to ensure a stable source of funds that the administration would channel to half a dozen state agencies. These agencies could not use the money for salaries and other operational costs.

While lawmakers would have the final say on how the bond proceeds are allocated, as part of the administration’s plan, the Cottrell Propst agency would receive $ 12 million to create conservation easements and restore watersheds, using a 2010 state law called the Natural Heritage Conservation Act. Aside from an initial appropriation of $ 5 million, the ministry’s power to pursue such projects has not been funded.

Another key argument for the bond proposal is that New Mexico is lacking millions of dollars in federal matching.

Wilber said New Mexico had not taken advantage of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for years, which provides 75 percent of the money for projects that support recreation and conservation areas. The main source of income for the federal fund is from oil and gas leases on the outer continental shelf.

It’s not like it’s a new idea. Other states, as well as cities and counties, have issued similar types of bonds.

Santa Fe County, for example, has for decades garnered voter approval every four years for general duty bonds to be used to acquire and preserve open space and spend on trails and parks. In response to the most recent polling question, county voters in 2020 approved $ 5.8 million to pay for five projects. Santa Fe County spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said that $ 540,000 from that surety authority had already been encumbered for work on the Santa Fe River Trail below the Siler Road Bridge.

Among the benefits for northern New Mexico that could come from approval of the statewide bond issuance, Cottrell Propst said it could help pay for watershed works in Taos. Canyon to mitigate forest fire risks for hundreds of homes, recreation sites and the Rio Fernandez, which she said sinks at 23 acequias.

But first, the plan must overcome obstacles in the legislative process, and there are likely challenges. But it’s a battle we hope conservation bond advocates win in the legislature and at the ballot box.