How Does Underfunding and Understaffing Threaten Human Health?

Published Jun 23, 2023


The New Mexico Environment Department is underfunded and understaffed, posing a major threat to human health. The agency is not up to date with inspections for permitted discharge, failing to meet the yearly inspection targets for the third year running.1Gleason, Megan. Source New Mexico. “State inspections lag for New Mexico’s primary drinking source.” Water Desk (CO). August 24, 2022. Of 597 groundwater permits issued, inspections were done for only 35, or 6 percent. Of those inspected, 8 percent had violations. But due to a lack of staffing, many of these violations are going unpunished and uncorrected.2Ibid.

In 2021, the agency was forced to reduce testing for drinking water contaminants due to a depletion of funds. Legislation to increase funding was vetoed by the governor, meaning that even more services would be discontinued, disproportionately targeting communities that cannot afford their own testing supplies.3New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee. “Performance Report Card: Environment Department.” Third Quarter, Fiscal Year 2022. With 80 percent of New Mexicans relying on groundwater for drinking supplies,4Gleason (2022). this is most concerning for those residents living near dairies.

Twenty percent of groundwater permit holders are dairies, discharging 4 million gallons more than all other agricultural programs combined.5Ibid. Groundwater contamination poses serious threats to human health, and the NMED must stop issuing permits to dairy operations with documented evidence of contamination. The agency must also terminate existing groundwater discharge permits to dairies with repeated violations of groundwater quality standards. Continued understaffing of the NMED will only allow mega-dairies to continue profiting at the expense of local communities.