As state representative, Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, listened to discussions on drought in New Mexico at a legislative committee on water and natural resources meeting, she thought about rural water supply systems in her district of Rio Arriba County, where she said four utilities needed temporary backup water due to infrastructure failure.
There are hundreds of small, community-owned water supply systems in the state, known as mutual associations of domestic water users. Herrera urged state lawmakers to remember that rural water supply systems may need more support than urban water supplies.
âMost of the drinking water in rural communities depends on these voluntary mutual domestic water systems,â Herrera said in an interview with NM political report. âAnd we haven’t really given them the resources to do the job they need. “
She said most of the small mutual domestic water systems are in trouble. They face challenges like aging infrastructure and some have maximized their ability to take new loans and, she said, they have systems to fix.
The impacts of climate change on water supply are not hard to notice as reservoir levels decline and rivers run out.
In one area, falling water levels resulted in an increase in silt that temporarily clogged the system, forcing the utility to clean it up, Herrera said.
In some parts of the state, water supply systems in rural areas depend on surface water from rivers. When rivers dry up, rural water supply systems have to rely on limited water storage. Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, wells are pumping water from declining aquifers.
Cities in New Mexico tend to have multiple water sources, but mutual domestic water associations sometimes have only one source and some of these are in areas where connection to regional supplies is not. possible.
Bill Conner, executive director of the New Mexico Rural Water Association, said there are some small systems that rely on a single well and drilling an additional well or two will cost a lot of money.
âI think funding is probably the biggest issue for them, being able to get funding in a timely manner to do some of the things that they have to do,â he said. NM Policy Report.
He said funding could come from state sources such as the water and capital trust fund or it could come from the federal government.
This funding could be used for projects such as drilling new wells to obtain a secondary water supply.
But, said Conner, there are many water supply systems and not all face the same challenges.
âSome people have had problems with the drought, some people haven’t,â he said.
Recent rains have helped some of the drought-stricken areas, Conner added.
âThey were getting pretty nervous about what the water levels were doing,â he said.
Conner said the volunteers who run the systems do a good job of providing safe drinking water to communities, but they need help, especially in the form of funding.
Since being elected in 2018, Herrera has introduced legislation to help these water supply systems by providing subsidies – an effort that so far has proved unsuccessful. But she said NM Policy Report that she does not let herself be discouraged and work on similar legislation to be introduced in 2022.
In the meantime, Herrera is running grant writing workshops for rural water utilities.
These grants could help modernize infrastructure as water is increasingly scarce across the state. Climate change and the resulting aridification trends in the southwest underscore the need for a reliable source of drinking water.
Mutual households are a common type of water source in rural areas, but not everyone receives water from a utility.
Herrera said the tap water comes from a private well on his property. This provided him with virtually free water until the well dried up.
Herrera said she is now on a waiting list to drill new wells, which will cost her $ 20,000. And she said not everyone has that money to spend.
The difficulties she has faced since her well dried up has caused her to think more about her own water consumption.
She said the days when New Mexicans could receive free or cheap water are fading.
Herrera further said the state needs to think about how it will reward regionalization of water and encourage large water supply networks to take over small, struggling water utilities.