New Mexico's State Engineer made his agency's budget request to the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday. The requested money would help reduce the state's backlog of water rights adjudication, and deal with current and future droughts.
State Engineer Scott Verhines has only been on the job for 10 months, but his agency just received help with the difficult task of deciding how water rights will be distributed in times of drought. The NM Supreme Court recently reinstated the state engineer's authority to distribute water rights after lower courts took this power away. The lower courts argued that the rule, as originally passed by the Legislature, gave the engineer too much power. Verhines expressed disagreement by saying:
"That's not what it was intended to do. It was intended, I think to try and keep everybody out of court so that they're not all litigating against one another, and provide the tools for us to share shortages in times of drought, like we're in right now."
Much of the state engineer's budget request - totaling $37.1-million dollars - will be used in to help senior water rights holders such as tribes and pueblos, acequia users known as parciantes, large agricultural users and cities to manage their water in times of drought. Verhines predicted that the current drought will likely only get worse in the coming months.