HB266 ~ March 2019
The Rio Grande Water Fund, as our interview with founder Laura McCarthy describes, is rocking it. The Fund has raised a lot of money, and engaged in a lot of forest restoration, in a very short time. Perhaps as importantly, it has cohered a truly diverse and powerful coalition of New Mexicans in support of the idea that upstream forest restoration is an incredibly effective clean water intervention.
Now that kind of approach is being taken statewide, by an innovative funding package that recently passed with nearly unanimous support in the New Mexico legislature. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act into law, creating a mechanism for large-scale forest restoration across ownership boundaries to protect critical watersheds and communities.
The Act will make it easier for agencies and partners from diverse sectors to co-fund projects and implement shared priorities. HB 266 will increase efficiencies, maximize funding opportunities, and enable consistent reporting on costs and accomplishments. Introduced over four years ago, the Act languished under the previous administration, but advocates kept up the education with lawmakers anyway, which prepared them for the new administration’s more receptive perspective on watershed investment.
“New Mexico has seen the devastation a catastrophic fire can have on people’s livelihoods, our water supply and the places we love to play. This bill will enable us to scale forest thinning work in ways that will truly make a difference,” said Brent Racher, President of New Mexico Forest Industry Association, in a press release issued by The Nature Conservancy.
Of particular interest to Carpe Diem West network members is the creation of a dedicated funding source for thinning and controlled burns around reservoirs, as well as rehabilitation and restoration of burned areas that have already dumped sediment. Projects that connect to the Rio Grande and its reservoirs, or to the acequias, New Mexico’s network of 400-year-old, hand-dug irrigation ditches, will qualify for funding.
The guaranteed $2M per year of funding provided by the bill will also allow the state to leverage additional public and private funding streams, and provide certainty for project planners across the state.