I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
ABQ water authority does not suffer lack of accountability
Regarding the commentary by Steve Harris on June 12, I would like to set the record straight regarding the policies of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and statements attributed to me by Mr. Harris.
First of all, in my interview with the Albuquerque Journal I stated that I believe the Water Authority should be run as a public utility and not used as a political platform. I didn’t use the word “normal” to describe my vision for the utility — this was paraphrasing on the part of the Journal reporter.
As Mr. Harris so colorfully points out, there are too many different ways to interpret the meaning of “normal.” And what’s normal for us in the desert Southwest certainly wouldn’t be considered normal in areas blessed with more bountiful water resources.
The proper role of the water authority in water resource management is open to debate, and Mr. Harris is entitled to his opinions on the issue. Since his organization is suing the water authority over our rightful use of San Juan-Chama water — a fact he fails to mention in a commentary espousing relevant disclosure — his agenda is clear.
But he goes too far when he suggests that the water authority is operating with insufficient oversight from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) and that the water authority is somehow not “accountable for the effects of its operations.”
The water authority holds annual rights to 48,200 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama water. This water has been purchased over the course of many decades by the ratepayers of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, and wouldn’t even be in the river if not for our efforts as a community and a utility.
We are nevertheless subject to many restrictions on the water’s use. While Mr. Harris says that the OSE has placed “few conditions” on us, the OSE permit governing our use of San Juan-Chama water is considered the most stringent in New Mexico history and contains no less than 18 conditions of approval.
Its provisions were formulated after years of input from stakeholders including environmental groups, businesses and neighborhoods. Among other things, the permit:
– Requires us to stop diverting surface water during periods of low river flow.
– Requires us to simultaneously return as much native Rio Grande water to the river as we take out to ensure that downstream users are not impacted.
– Requires us to meet a conservation usage goal of 155 gallons per person per day in 20 years, and we are on track to achieve 150 gppd by 2014.
Clearly, the OSE is holding us accountable for our stewardship of natural resources. Meanwhile, our customers hold us accountable through the ballot — all voting members of the water authority’s board are elected officials and include three Albuquerque city councilors, three Bernalillo County commissioners, and the mayor of Albuquerque or his designate. Additional accountability comes through participation in our customer advisory committee, and through the numerous opportunities we provide for public input on our projects, policies and initiatives.
Such input has helped us shape our conservation policies, which hold new development to stricter usage standards than existing areas and require new developments outside our existing service area to pay in advance for the water resources they will be using.
Mr. Harris’s claims that the Water Authority acts only in the interests of “developmentalists” or that we could somehow meet our conservation requirements through “a little Enron-style accounting” are unjust insults to the integrity and hard work of water authority staff and board members who take very seriously their responsibility to the environment, the community and future generations.
Trudy Jones, an Albuquerque city councilor, is chair of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.