Advancing Toward Equity in Rural Infrastructure

By Philip Hughes-Luing

Claudia Risner, Democratic candidate for New Mexico Senate District 19, says the rural terrain of District 19 rocks with incredible vistas, rugged people who are devoted to the land and magnanimous when their neighbors are in need, wide open spaces filled with opportunity for growing a diverse, self-sustaining economy, and rocks. Lots of rocks.

Those mountainous rocks pose an impediment to providing the inhabitants of rural New Mexico with equitable access to such infrastructure as reliable, high speed internet, comprehensive phone service, and access to clean water. Blasting through ‘that last mile’ of solid stone to provide fiberoptic cable, etc. to remote residents presents private companies with costs that all too often they deem untenable.

Risner has been consulting with State Senator Michel Padilla, a strong advocate of economic development, on how public/private partnerships might address the cost factors inhibiting the provision of services. COVID-19 makes apparent the disparities in services and renders the need to redress them of critical importance. Families often consist of parents working from home plus children attending school classes at home, all having to divvy up the home’s recalcitrant, unreliable, slow internet access. She believes innovative thinking that employs cutting edge technology, such as is often developed in here in New Mexico, can help rural New Mexico residents rise above the challenges posed by the terrain to their infrastructure. Sceye, Inc. of Roswell and Moriarty, are developing a fleet of five hovering airships could beam down high speed, stratospheric infrastructure to all of New Mexico, uninhibited by mountainous terrain. And Sacred Wind Communications is using innovative technology to bring equity in infrastructure to rural and Native residents of New Mexico.

Entrepreneurs can develop a diverse economy for rural New Mexico based on the research and development that is already being done here in well-established labs. Currently technological research conducted here is taken out of state and refined elsewhere, then the resulting products are sold back to New Mexico. The profits from those sales flow back out of state, to the companies and jobs grown from those profits. Risner wants to see our educational system engaged with the State in partnerships to provide training for growing innovative technological as well as agricultural jobs that diversify New Mexico’s economy. She recognizes that New Mexico’s limited water resources provide an infrastructural challenge to realizing that vision, but again, she cites innovative thinking and technology to address it. The 2019 Healthy Soils Act advances five regenerative agricultural practices. The first mandates biodiverse ground cover to conserve and re-use water. Different plants during different seasons and under varying climactic conditions trade off to maintain a constant absorption of carbon dioxide from the air while retaining water in the earth.

Risner is working with State Representative Melanie Stansbury to develop a 50-year sustainable water plan that is cohesive across the state. She explains that currently water use is subjected to the vagaries of an uncoordinated patchwork of local water boards. This lack of coordination frequently results in New Mexico defaulting on water-sharing agreements between Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, which in turn results in costly litigation that New Mexico inevitably loses.