HB 185, which would approve the merger of five South Mesilla Valley mutual domestic water associations into one larger Authority, was heard in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. It received a "do pass" vote from the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee earlier in the month. The bill had been assigned to the Health and Government Affairs Committee, but was reassigned by the Speaker of the House to the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee has not yet issued a recommendation for the bill.
At the hearing yesterday a number of persons spoke on behalf of the bill, including Gary Esslinger, Treasurer-Manager of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District; Rick Martinez, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Finance Administration; and Bill Hume, from the Governor's Office. In addition, a number of persons from the affected domestic water districts spoke in favor of the bill, including Gabe Gutierrez, Robert Nieto, Martin Lopez, Karen Nichols, Olga Sanchez, Robert Nava, Ellen Drew, and Arturo Uribe. The bill now has the support of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the New Mexico Farm Bureau, the Groundwater Drillers Association, and the League of Conservation Voters. There appears to be no opposition from the Municipal League or from Dona Ana County, or the Association of Counties.
A few persons spoke out against the bill, including Maria Elena Bejarano, Natalia Mercado, Manny Garcia, Betty Gonzales, and Victor Montoya. Victor Montoya asserted at the hearing he was speaking against the bill as a representative of the Anthony Water and Sanitation District. However, in an article written by Diana Alba appearing in the the Las Cruces Sun News on February 6, Pat Banegas, General Manager of the Anthony Water and Sanitation District, said "I'm not going to support it or go against it," referring to HB 185. Banegas could not be reached for comment.