March 15, 2023
Western Resource Advocates (WRA) celebrates the approval of New Mexico House Bill 2, the state budget for FY2024, which includes a $100 million appropriation for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and $7.5 million for the Strategic Water Reserve – both representing historic investments for the state.
The appropriation for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is the single largest land and water conservation investment in New Mexico history. The creation of the fund also establishes New Mexico’s first dedicated and long-term funding stream for land and water conservation and situates the state to leverage federal money that has historically been left on the table without access to the required matching funds. The Fund will support existing state programs that prioritize land and water conservation, forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation and infrastructure, agriculture and working lands, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection.
“Recent catastrophic and devasting wildfires have shined a bright light on our state’s need to invest in landscape and community resilience,” said Jonathan Hayden, western lands senior policy analyst with WRA. “The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is the kind of investment New Mexico needs to ensure the health of our forests, watersheds, and the communities that rely on them. By making this investment, our elected leaders have cemented their commitment to land and water stewardship and have allowed us – for the first time – to access millions of federal dollars available to protect our lands, waters, wildlife, and cultural heritage. Now we can begin the hard work needed to ensure a healthy environment for future generations.”
The Strategic Water Reserve was created through bipartisan support in 2005 as a publicly held pool of water rights. Funding for the Reserve is used to purchase or lease water rights in order to keep the state’s rivers flowing for the benefit of endangered species and to meet obligations under interstate water compacts. After the economic crash in 2008, funding was pulled from the Reserve, and the program has since struggled to receive funding. This year, the New Mexico legislature restored funding at nearly triple what the program has ever received in a single appropriation.
“As our climate continues to warm and water shortage projections become more severe in future years, it’s clearer than ever that water is life in New Mexico,” said Anjali Bean, healthy rivers senior policy analyst with WRA. “The Strategic Water Reserve is a critical water management tool for our state that will not only protect our rivers and ecosystems, but also prevent costly future litigation that would come from failing to meet our obligations in the future. It is commendable that our legislature saw this need and stepped up to make a substantial investment in its funding. It has never been more important to build sustainable and climate resilient water management systems that can meet the needs of all users, even as our water supply diminishes.”
The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund (SB9) was sponsored by Sens. Steven Neville (R), Peter Wirth (D), and Rep. Nathan Small (D), builds on the vision laid out by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her executive budget recommendation. The Strategic Water Reserve was supported by Sen. Liz Stefanics (D) and Rep. Nathan Small. WRA served as part of a broad coalition for both initiatives.