2024 Legislative Recap

A Big Win For Clean Water

This legislative session, $7 million was appropriated to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to set up a surface water quality permitting program, as well as to fund shared infrastructure with the groundwater permitting program. An additional $600,00 was also appropriated solely for setting up the surface water permitting program. The U.S. Supreme Court Sackett v. EPA decision removed federal protection under the Clean Water Act for rivers, streams, and wetlands across the nation but nowhere is more vulnerable than New Mexico. This funding is critical to provide NMED the capacity to set up a program that will ensure New Mexico rivers, streams, and wetlands are protected for future generations. These funds, and everything included in the budget, await the Governor’s signature, which must occur by March 6th. Thank you to the Governor and our legislative leaders for making this happen!

Other Water Investments and Wins

The capital outlay bill included $2 million for the River Stewardship Program, which does important work enhancing the health of rivers through on-the-ground projects across the state. An additional $1.25 million will be allocated to this program through the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. The bill also included $5 million for acequia improvements statewide. We invested an additional $50 million into the Water Trust Fund, which is the interest-generating permanent fund and is drawn upon annually to fund critical water-related projects across the state, vetted by the Water Trust Board. HB 211, sponsored by Representative Herrera and other legislative leaders, also passed and will build efficiencies into awarding these grants, as well as adding wastewater conveyance and treatment as a project type. It is now awaiting the signature of the Governor. Last, but certainly not least, we were able to extend funds appropriated last session for the Strategic Water Reserve ($7.5 million–the largest appropriation this critical tool has ever received!) through 2028. The Strategic Water Reserve provides a mechanism by which the state can purchase or lease water to keep in New Mexico’s waterways for two purposes: for the benefit of endangered species or for compact compliance. 

Pushing Back on the Strategic Water Supply

One of the most difficult parts of this legislative session was trying to determine how to engage with the Strategic Water Supply. This initiative, announced by Governor Lujan Grisham at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December of last year, proposed to invest $500 million through bond funding to purchase treated brackish and produced water. There was a lot of back and forth around the idea throughout the session, but a bill was not brought forward until the final days. NM Wild has a lot of questions about how this idea would work and wants to ensure we are thinking through any unintended consequences. We are grateful to the bill sponsors for bringing legislation forward, rather than the idea moving through the budget process as initially intended, as an idea that requires public discourse. We look forward to continuing to engage with NMED, the Governor, and our legislative leaders on this idea and moving forward with the best solutions to New Mexico’s water crisis.

Wildlife Corridors Funding:

Created during last year’s legislative session to implement the State Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, the Wildlife Corridor Fund (SB 72) supports efforts to reduce animal-related vehicle collisions through highway infrastructure projects that include signage, fencing and overpass/underpass projects as well as promote habitat connectivity across the state. This year, Governor Lujan Grisham recommended allocating $30 million toward the Fund, and the Legislative Finance Committee recommended $50 million. A day before the House passed its budget (HB 2), the $50 million for the Fund was mysteriously stripped from the budget. New Mexico Wild and coalition partners scrambled to try and get the money re-allocated into the Corridors Fund, but at the close of the session only $5 million remained appropriated despite commitments from legislative leadership. Corridor infrastructure projects are very expensive costing in excess of $150 million. With 11 critical priority projects identified statewide, $5 million is a drop in the bucket. We again thank President Pro Tempore Senator Mimi Stewart, the primary sponsor of the Wildlife Corridor Fund last year and the driving force behind this year’s allocation. 

Huge Win For Conservation funding – The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund:

Passed last year,  the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is New Mexico’s first-ever dedicated source of recurring funding for conservation, land and water stewardship, forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation and infrastructure, agriculture and working lands, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection. It provides critical funding for existing programs and provides important matching funds to bring federal dollars to the state. This year, the legislature provided an additional $300 million appropriation to the fund (HB 2), and we expect the Governor to approve the appropriation. This permanent fund produces dividends that will pay 12% annually to a wide range of state agencies (https://www.enchantmentfund.org/how-the-fund-work) that manage conservation stewardship programs statewide. The agencies will start to receive these benefits in 2025.

The Match Fund Initiative:

The New Mexico Match Fund Act, HB 177, soared through the House of Representatives and the Senate with unanimous support and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The Act will establish and allocate $75 million to the New Mexico Match Fund, to be administered by the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to bridge the gaps faced by state, tribal, and local entities that struggle to meet funding match requirements for federal grants. NM Wild’s Guide to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act identified a lack of state matching funds, required by most grants, to be a barrier to ensuring these dollars are put to maximum benefit for critical water projects. We are confident that this bill, which passed multiple committees with the unanimous support of both legislators and a diverse group of advocates, will receive final approval from the Governor, who included $100 million in her executive budget for this initiative. The bill passed three committees in the House and Senate with unanimous bipartisan support from Committee members. 

Land & Water Conservation Fund Changes:

Amendments to the state Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (SB 169) unanimously passed the Senate and the House. If signed by the Governor, the legislation will complement our other conservation funding priorities and will help the state better access federal LWCF dollars. The LWCF provides federal grants for projects throughout the country to safeguard natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage, and to provide equitable recreation opportunities. SB 169 updates the state’s framework for providing matching funds and using these grants by prioritizing funding requests from Pueblos, Tribes, and rural communities; investing $10 million to help communities meet federal match requirements; and providing needed support for the State Parks Division’s administration of the program. 

Game Commission Reform:

The New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMDGF) badly needs reform to transcend from an agency focused solely on game and fish species to a modern agency that holistically stewards all New Mexico’s precious wildlife. In the 2023 legislative session, reform legislation (HB184) passed both the house and senate with bipartisan support, but was vetoed by Governor Lujan Grisham. In the 2024 legislative session, Representative Matthew McQueen again sponsored a bill to modernize NMDGF (HB 147/178). Although HB 178 passed the House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee, there was not enough time to move the bill across the finish line in this short 30-day legislative session. We are confident that this critical initiative will pass in next year’s 60-day session. 

Oil & Gas Reform:

The legislature did not pass a bill, or even a memorial, on Oil and Gas Act reform in this short, 30-day session, despite a tremendous effort by environmental advocates and support from the Governor and the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD). The efforts did, however, raise the awareness of leadership in both chambers of the need to update the 1935 Oil and Gas Act.  Amendments to the Act (HB 133) did pass the House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee (6-5) and the House Judiciary Committee (7-4). Unfortunately, due to strong industry opposition, the committees passed substitute bills that removed setback provisions to protect public health and natural resources, including surface waters and wildlife habitat. Senate Memorial (SM 8) also passed two committees and would have directed EMNRD to study setbacks and make a recommendation in next year’s 60-day session. We look forward to continuing our work on this issue.