MRGCD raises rates

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Irrigators relying on the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s water bank for the upcoming season will see an increase to the yearly fee.

At a special meeting earlier this month, MRGCD board members voted unanimously to increase the annual lease rate from $30 to $50 an acre. The $100 administrative fee and the $28.50 water service charge will both remain the same for the 2012 irrigation season.

Chris Sichler, the director from Socorro County, was a member of the water bank committee that considered the rate increase.

“In my opinion, the water bank is very important to the district,” Sichler said. “I don’t use it, but I think it will be very important in the future in protecting the district’s water rights. It will probably require a lot of changes as we go forward as more people enroll, as we go in and out of drought.”

Sichler said the water bank was formed in the mid 1990s because the district was concerned that without the water bank, the water rights would be lost.

“One of the things we’re finding out in municipal areas is that ditches are good for aquifer recharge, especially within those areas of municipal pumping,” he said. “The water bank supports rural areas. When water rights are transferred out, it keeps agriculture in production and keeps the economy going. It provides a good local food source and supports local growers.”

Sichler said the lease rate was originally $10 an acre, but was later increased to $30, where it has stayed for several years.

“The water bank has went along pretty well until recently. Lately it has become a hot political issue,” he said. “People who haven’t sold their water feel it’s unfair that people who have sold get the profit and can still irrigate with cheap water.”

The district currently has 319 water bank lease applications for 2,832 acres, said Subhas Shah, the district’s CEO and chief engineer

Sichler said it was the committee’s recommendation to increase the lease rate to $50 an acre for 2012, while leaving the other two fees the same.

Karen Dunning, one of the directors from Bernalillo County, said she remembered discussions about the administrative fee from last year.

“It’s the same amount of work whether it’s a large or small amount of land, whether it’s one acre or 500 acres,” Dunning said. “But once they are on the water bank and come back, I don’t understand the administrative fee being $100 every year. If we really want to encourage people to use the water bank, we have to consider that for smaller irrigators, for one acre, $100 is a lot.”

The committee considered that issue, Sichler said.

“You’re right, it is a lot of money. The consensus is that it is $100 to get on (the water bank) then the thought is to look at the rule and maybe extend (the lease) from one year to three years,” he said. “Or make it an annual fee of $20 for paperwork, once they are on the water bank. This year, there was not enough time to change the rule.

“The committee is looking at a process to update Rule 23. It needs to be a living document. We recommend leaving it at $100 now and try and work out next year to be more flexible.”

John Kelly, who also represents Bernalillo County, said he shared Director Dunning’s concerns.

“I know we want to keep water in ditches, but I have concerns about raising the fee by 66 percent,” Kelly said. “We also need to make a decision in January when we’re being told we won’t know for sure what the availability is going to be until February. People want to make a business plan for the season.”

Kelly said he would like to see curtailments for water bank users done evenly to include large open spaces such as Anderson fields.

“I would like to see the board look at priority on the curtailment side too (as well as the delivery),” he said. “I want to keep irrigation on one, two and three acres. We could lose a lot of small irrigators.”

Dunning asked if there was a filing deadline for water bank applications.

Shah said once the rate is approved, the district sends a letter out saying it would like to see applications on or before March 1.

“Whoever gets on first gets served,” Shah said. “We let people on throughout the year.”

David Gensler, the district’s hydrologist, said for the 2012 irrigation season, there was 80,000 acre-feet upstream for the 2012 irrigation season.

He said the district also has the option to store up to 51,000 acre-feet of flow due to an outstanding credit on a water payment to the city of Albuquerque.

“We expect 2012 to be very much like 2011 with a smaller amount in storage, and we expect similar amount of runoff,” Gensler said. “We will be making extremely similar recommendations as last year.”

When Sichler asked if the district was “pretty sure” it could meet the water demand, Gensler responded that it’s never 100 percent.

“We’re predicting a similar year as last,” Gensler said. “We’ll know better in August.”

Derrick Lente, the representative for Sandoval County and chairman of the board of directors, asked if conditions stay the same as they are right now, would the district make it through the season.

Gensler replied, “Probably.”

“Any time you are applying to the water bank, people are aware that they can be cut off any time,” Lente said. “That’s the nature of the beast, whether it’s a wet year or a dry year.”

The district released a total of 360,000 acre-feet during the 2011 irrigation season, Gensler said.

 


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.