Governor Richardson signed HB 185 into law this afternoon, enabling the mutual domestic water associations of Mesquite, Vado, Desert Sands, Berino, and La Mesa to merge together, forming a single Water Authority. According to Marty Nieto, president of the Lower Rio Grande Mutual Demestic Water Association and president of the Mesquite mutual domestic water association, who lobbied for the bill, this was a "historic occasion," inasmuch as it marks the first time anywhere in the state a group of mutual domestic water associations have acted to merge together. "It will benefit all members," he said, and, unlike the merger of Sunland Park and Dona Ana County into an Authority a few years ago, this merger "will remain a membership-owned Authority."
Martin Lopez, general manager of the Mesquite Mutual Domestic Water Association, who also lobbied for the bill, said this was "the first step. Now we have to pull together the community to make this new association transparent, sustainable, and cost-efficient." He said a top priority for the next few months will be to work with the members to produce "a governance document that will provide the ground rules to assure a smooth transition."
Under existing law mutual domestic water associations may merge together without acquiring the power of a "Water Authority," and in this case the five mutual associations had created the Lower Rio Grande Mutual Domestic Water Association, consisting of the five water systems, to begin a merger. However, they decided to try to acquire the status of Water Authority during this legislative session, and HB 185 was introduced by Rep. Joseph Cervantes in the House and sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen in the Senate. The bill passed through the House on February 25 and through the Senate on March 16. A Water Authority has greater powers than a mutual domestic water association, enabling it to issue bonds for system improvements.