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NM lawmakers: Water is critical issue this session

Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- A bipartisan group of New Mexico legislators announced Tuesday that they have introduced a series of bills aimed at tackling what they consider to be a looming crisis as the state grapples with a persistent drought, dwindling water supplies and legal pressure from neighboring Texas.

Among the changes, the bills would revamp the state's water plan, boost the number of judges who handle water rights and spend millions of dollars on infrastructure.

Senate Conservation Commission Chairman Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the legislation is no "silver bullet" for dealing with New Mexico's water problems.

"It's fair to say we're barely scratching the surface," he said during a news conference. "What's important is that everything related to water needs to be on the table moving forward. We're at the beginning of an incredibly important discussion."

With New Mexico heading into its third year of drought, nearly every square mile of the state is suffering from dry conditions. The snowpack in the northern mountains is dismal, rivers and reservoirs have reached historic lows and forecasters said more hot, dry weather is in store.

New Mexico is also locked in a legal battle with Texas over sharing of the Rio Grande, which supplies water to thousands of farmers in both states.

One of the bills being considered during New Mexico's 60-day legislative session calls for studying supply and demand issues along with the economic consequences of having such a limited water supply.

"The bottom line is in this state, a desert state, future economic development turns with water," said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Smith warned that New Mexico won't be able to attract new businesses or grow the ones it has if the state has no water.