ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — People who live in the area served by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are taxed to provide operating funds for the conservancy district, even if they do not use irrigation water provided by the district.
If they are irrigators, they are charged more than $30 an acre for that privilege, in addition to paying the tax.
And both the tax rate and the irrigation fee will likely be going up on July 1.
In return , these people, irrigators or not, get to vote in MRGCD board elections, the next of which is Tuesday.
The conservancy district serves 11,000 irrigators, delivering water to 70,000 acres of cropland along 150 miles of the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam in the north to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in the south. Its mission also includes drainage and flood control.
Seven members serve on the MRGCD board – three from Bernalillo County; one each from Sandoval, Valencia and Socorro counties; and one in an at-large position.
Nine candidates are vying for three board seats in Tuesday’s election – three for the at-large seat, two for one of the Bernalillo County seats; and four for the Valencia County seat.
Here’s a look at the candidates as they appear on the ballot.
Glen Duggins, a lifelong resident of Socorro County and a farmer for 30 years, wants to ensure “that we keep our land and water in agriculture for our kids’ future.”
Duggins raises alfalfa, corn, wheat and chile on a 600-acre farm in Lemitar. He has an associate degree in agriculture from New Mexico State University.
“Local-grown produce is the best and safest. To know your farmer is to know your food. This is dear to my heart and I hope to bring this ethic to my work on the MRGCD board.”
Michael T. Sandoval of San Felipe Pueblo said his main focus as a conservancy district board member would be as an advocate.
“I’m a traditional farmer and want to make sure everyone gets all they are entitled to. Period,” he said.
Sandoval has served as the pueblo’s water resources specialist since 2006. He worked on water issues as an employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1978 until 2006. He was governor of San Felipe Pueblo in 2007.
“I learned to farm from my grandfather with a hoe, no tiller. I grow row crops – chile, corn – not cash crops. No alfalfa.”
Janet Jarratt represented Valencia County on the conservancy district board from 2007-2011 and served as board chair, the first woman to do so, from 2009-2011. Jarratt has also served as an executive committee member of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau. She grew up just south of Los Lunas on land where she runs a small dairy farm, grows feed for her cows, and raises beets, artichokes and blackberries for sale.
“I decided to run at-large because, when I was on the board previously, I was called to different counties. At-large will give me the chance to bring in the commonality across the district, find the unification of the four counties. I’ve done a lot of water planning. I understand a lot of the issues.”
John P. Kelly, the incumbent, was elected to the board in 2011. He is an Albuquerque native and lives in the city’s North Valley. He was executive engineer of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority from 1999-2010.
“I bring a technical and managerial perspective to the board that balances the rural and urban interests, the agricultural and environmental interests, and the interests of the MRGCD constituents who do not irrigate but provide the bulk of the MRGCD’s revenues through their assessments,” he said.
Steve D. Gallegos served on the Albuquerque City Council from 1983-1997 and on the Bernalillo County Commission from 1998-2005. He is a lobbyist for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. He grew up in and lives in the South Valley’s Atrisco neighborhood.
“I understand the importance of our acequias, but my greatest asset is listening to voters,” he said. “I am running based on 21-plus years in public service. I hope to use my knowledge as a city councilor and county commissioner to benefit the users of our (conservancy) district.”
Michael Tachias, a resident of Bosque Farms, grew up on a small ranch in the Estancia Valley where “water was and still is a precious resource and rare commodity.” He served in the U.S. Army for more than 34 years, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is a volunteer with the San Luis-Cabezon Domestic Water Association and manages a Wounded Warrior Haven at Cabezon in Sandoval County for disabled veterans and their families.
“If elected, some main priorities and goals are planning for the future, securing and protecting our water system, improving our ditch system and service, proper training for our ditch riders and leadership, and assessing costly projects,” he said. “Are (these projects) beneficial to the taxpayers? Will they drop our flood insurance rates?”
Matthew Aragon works full time as a small farmer in Los Lunas. He raises beef cattle and a variety of forage crops.
Aragon said he wants to serve on the board as a voice for the small farmer and as an advocate for food security and equality.
“If we lose the ability to feed ourselves, we lose our freedom,” he said. “And we must find a way to evenly distribute our vital resource so that it benefits not only our economy but, more importantly, our families and communities.”
Beverly Dominguez Romero grows alfalfa on farm land in Tom è, where she was born and raised. She worked for 26 years in the Valencia County Assessor’s Office, serving eight of those years as county assessor. She works for the 13th Judicial District Attorney in Belen.
“I have years of experience from budgeting, legislation, purchasing, human resources, along with being a lifelong resident of Valencia County,” she said. “I have all the knowledge it takes to move the MRGCD board of directors forward in a positive direction, fairly and equitably.”
Johnny L. Paiz, the incumbent, was elected to the board in 2011. He is a veteran of the Air Force and of service in Vietnam. He lives in Bosque, where he raises thoroughbred horses on a small farm.
He said that, during his four years on the board, he has been part of the movement to make the conservancy district more transparent.
“We have a new chief executive officer (Mike Hamman) and a brand new organizational chart,” he said. “We are going to have to plug in some places on it, but we are working on that.”