Water concerns in New Mexico cross party lines

·3 min read

Jan. 28—About three-quarters of New Mexico voters who participated in a recent survey expressed strong concerns about the state's water supply and said immediate action is needed to ensure future generations have enough water.

The Thornburg Foundation in Santa Fe and the California-based Water Foundation commissioned the survey, which reveals large agreement across the political spectrum on broad issues, such as the drought being a serious problem, but also a predictable partisan divide on whether the drought is linked to climate change.

Still, the high percentage of voters showing consensus on fundamental water challenges and the need to tackle them indicates New Mexicans have concerns that transcend party politics, said Allan Oliver, executive director of the Thornburg Foundation.

"I'm delighted to see this is a cross-partisan point of concern," Oliver said. "Ultimately it means it's a place where we can find agreements and policymakers can engage, knowing there's a lot of their constituents who want action."

For the survey, 706 people were polled from a diverse cross-section, including urban and rural areas, tribes, employees in the private and public sectors and people with varying political beliefs.

The results clearly indicate people have wide-ranging interests in water, such as river flows, agriculture, wildlife, sustainability and the state sharing water data with the public, said Nina Carranco, the Water Foundation's program officer.

"New Mexicans aren't just worried about one thing with water — they are really thinking holistically," Carranco said.

A strong majority also support policy changes and increased funding to protect and enhance the water supply, she added.

Both Carranco and Oliver said they'd like to widely distribute the survey results, including to lawmakers during the current legislative session.

Aside from political leaders, copies should go to state regulators, tribes, conservationists, agricultural groups, researchers and anyone who cares about water, Carranco said, adding her foundation's goal is to share the data as much as possible.

"We're taking steps ... to ensure people have this important information and show that there's urgency to this issue," she said, "and that there's high-level support for multiple issues."

Among the survey's results:

* 84 percent think it's vital to protect the rivers' health.

* 83 percent say safe, affordable drinking water should be a high priority.

* 84 percent feel it's important to supply adequate water to farms and ranches.

* 82 percent back expansion of water recycling programs.

* 74 percent support funding water infrastructure projects to help ensure supplies for future generations.

Disparities crept in on issues with common political differences, such as regulation and pollution, and tying drought conditions to climate change.

For instance, 69 percent agreed drought was a serious problem. But conservatives were almost 10 times more likely than liberals to disagree there's strong evidence of climate change being a factor — 57 percent versus 6 percent.

Overall, only 54 percent think climate change and the health of rivers are serious problems. Only 49 percent deemed water pollution a serious problem, while just 47 percent thought the quality of drinking water was a serious concern.

Dave Dubois, state climatologist, said it's not surprising New Mexicans overall are concerned about water supply and want to protect water quality.

It's important for government leaders to know the public's sentiments on water, so they can act accordingly, he added.

"Surveys are great," Dubois said. "That gives us the flavor and the temperature of the community's interest, especially if they use words like 'urgent' and 'now is the time.' "