News Feature | July 13, 2017

New Mexico Utility's Innovative Funding Project For Water Quality

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

new mexico reg new

A public water utility in New Mexico is trying an innovative approach to preserving water quality, donating money to protect the environment upstream.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority in New Mexico “doesn’t own the land where its water originates, but it just donated $1 million to help protect it,” News Deeply recently reported.

The largest water authority in the state, providing water and wastewater services to the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area, the utility has plans to shell out $1 million over five years to the Rio Grande Water Fund.

The unusual part is this: The utility is investing in land it does not own.

“That, I think, is just a super-smart investment on the part of the Water Authority,” said Kimery Wiltshire, with Carpe Diem West, a conservation consultancy, per the report.

The Rio Grande Water Fund, a public-private partnership, was launched three years ago. The goal is “to protect San Juan-Chama and Rio Grande watershed lands from catastrophic forest fires by funding forest restoration projects on about 600,000 forested acres, namely through thinning and prescribed burns,” News Deeply reported. This plan is expected to protect water downstream.

Katherine Yuhas, water resources manager for the Water Authority, explained that the utility is responding to the need to protect its resources in the face of climate change.

“The Water Authority recognized the need to do something about our forests and what would happen to them in the face of climate change: catastrophic fire, drying, less snowpack, all of those impacts,” she said, per News Deeply. “The next 20 years don’t look that dire in terms of climate change and our water supply. But when you start to look out 80 years, then we start to see big impacts.”

The utility sees the donations as an eventual cost saver. “The environmental initiative is expected to save $6 million over the next 25 years,” KRQE reported.

The same utility is working on ways to slash its energy costs. It unveiled a new $3.5 million solar array in June “intended to cut the utility’s electrical costs,” the Albuquerque Journal reported.

To read more about innovative financing models for utilities visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Ridgeline," Nicholas A. Tonnelli © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: