Conservancy district sets rates for irrigation season
In a continuing effort to ensure that all of its water is accounted for, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board of directors affirmed the fees and lease rates for its water bank during a special meeting Monday evening (Jan. 11).
On a 6-0 vote, the board affirmed rates for the coming irrigation season. Instead of a one-time $150 administrative fee, the board enacted a $100 annual fee, kept the water bank lease fee at $30 per acre per year, and retained the water bank water service charge of $28 per acre per year.
Board chairwoman Janet Jarratt pointed out that the water service charge is the same for all irrigators whether they are leasing from the district’s water bank or not.
The board also approved a $10 water bank deposit fee for pre-1907 water rights.
Recognizing that water is incredibly valuable in the state of New Mexico, board member Adrian Oglesby said he felt the fees were modest in comparison to the market rate of water rights.
“We had to balance that with preserving agriculture,” Oglesby said.
Jarratt said the rates were based on market value and agriculture’s ability to pay.
“And right now, with the fluctuating value of agricultural goods, nobody is happy these days,” Jarratt said. “We need to keep agriculture viable in the valley.”
Prior to the vote, the board took public comments on the proposed rates. Not everyone thought they were fairly assessed. James Maestas, an irrigator in the South Valley, said the rates were unfair because they were too low.
“In Santa Fe, they pay 10 percent of market value per year,” Maestas said. “Every year, it is re-evaluated, and it goes up. I pay $100 per year for half an acre. I am subsidizing the other farmers who pay $30 per acre.”
Maestas added that he pays a residential rate on his property taxes.
Jarratt said each county assessor sets the values on properties, and the district adds on its fees.
“You pay the property taxes whether you irrigate or not,” she said.
Maestas said the district’s estimates were faulty, and it had budgeted incorrectly for the cost to deliver water.
“The bottom line is, I’m paying more,” he said.
Anthony Montoya, an irrigator from Bosque, asked how the district obtained the water it was selling through its water bank. Jarratt was quick to point out that the district was leasing the water to irrigators, not selling it.
The district’s attorney, Charles DuMars, said the water in the water bank came from conservancy district property that was no longer able to be irrigated.
“Due to urbanization and development, the district had two choices. As things were built on lands that were irrigated by conservancy water, we could just say, ‘Oh well. We lost it.’ Or we could take the position that the water was still available under the water bank,” DuMars explained.
Jarratt added that as a government entity, the conservancy district does not forfeit its water rights when another entity, such as a municipality, develops land benefited by the district.
Montoya asked if the district condemned lands for the water rights. DuMars said the district did not.
“When development occurs over irrigated land, we don’t give up the use of that water,” he said.
The Bosque resident also wanted to know why the office of the state engineer said someone could not irrigate after they sold their water rights.
“It’s still my water. I still pay the assessments and taxes,” Montoya said. “Why do they say I can’t irrigate?”
Board member Derrick Lente equated the sale of water rights, which are private property, to the sale of a car.
“I can’t sell my car and say I still want to drive it,” Lente said. “It’s not mine anymore.”
DuMars advised Montoya that his concerns were something he would need to address with the state engineer.
“If you sell your water rights, they are no longer at your property and can be used at another property,” the attorney said. “The only way you can irrigate is if you still have your water rights or through a water bank. That’s been the law for a long time.”
Jarratt said that if an irrigator sold their water rights with the intention of never irrigating again, they could take steps to be exempted from the district’s water service charge.
Last year, to prevent “double dipping” of irrigation water, the district passed a resolution that anyone in the benefited area who had sold their water rights and wished to continue irrigating had to demonstrate that they were irrigating their tract under a valid source of water.
Notices were sent out by the district to individuals who have been identified by records of the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer as having sold, transferred or conveyed their water rights, and for which property the OSE has no current “lease back” or other source of irrigation water recorded.
But if your property is not on the records of OSE as having sold or transferred water rights to another use or location, absolutely nothing changes for you or your irrigation.
Contact Julia M. Dendinger