- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday signed a spending measure that includes $89 million to improve the state’s crumbling drinking water infrastructure.

The governor said she’s disappointed lawmakers didn’t allocate more for water projects. Her administration had asked for at least 60 percent of capital outlay funds - or more than $110 million - to be dedicated to repairing and replacing aging systems.

“You cannot have an economy grow in rural areas, or anywhere in this state, if you don’t have access to clean water,” Martinez said.

Martinez added that water quality is an issue in many rural areas, where residents are forced to boil water before drinking it.

The problems associated with aging systems and growing maintenance costs have been exacerbated by years of drought. The dry conditions reached unprecedented levels in 2013, and forecasters are predicting more hot, dry and windy weather this spring.

The latest federal drought map reflects severe conditions or worse across two-thirds of the state.

During the legislative session, Martinez’s administration was criticized for not being more specific about the projects it wanted funded. Some lawmakers have said more planning is needed to ensure the state’s money is used wisely and that communities see projects through to the end.

Martinez signed the capital outlay measure during a visit to Las Vegas’ historic plaza.

Las Vegas leaders have been seeking funds to expand the city’s reservoir to provide storage for enough water to meet residents’ needs for a year. The project will also make the dam’s structure safer.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said the $10 million in capital funds will address a need that has been 50 years in the making. The city has also raised water rates over the past two years to pay for the project.

“It’s really unbelievable where we’re at today,” Ortiz said, referring to the city’s conservation measures and efforts to secure more sustainable water sources. “We can dream about getting things done, but dreaming is one thing, getting them done is another. We’ve dreamed already, and we’re at the point of getting it done.”

The capital funds will also go to Algodones, Gabaldon and many other small communities to ensure residents have access to clean drinking water. Some will get funds to prevent water emergencies. Alamogordo will use its share to invest in a desalination plant. Nearly $9 million will go toward repairing watersheds damaged by fires and floods.

Aside from water projects, capital funds will also be spent on repairs at public schools and other public buildings around the state as well as road and highway improvements.

The governor’s office said the measure signed Tuesday also includes enough money to complete the road to Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.

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Associated Press writer Russell Contreras contributed to this report.

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Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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