MRGCD candidate speaks
Only one candidate and fewer than 20 people showed up for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Position 6 candidates’ forum at the Socorro County Annex on Monday night. Incumbent candidate Chris Sichler went ahead with the forum, which was sponsored by the Socorro Soil Water Conservation Service.
State Rep. Don Tripp began the session with a question about Sichler’s jurisdiction.
Sichler said the Position 6 director represents all of Socorro County within MRGCD boundaries.
“(It’s) all of Socorro County from the ditch on the east side, the river bosque, to the ditch on the west side,” he said. Some of the district’s Belen Division and areas of the city that used to be irrigated from higher ditches on the west are also part of his jurisdiction.
Sichler went on to address the three “pre-arranged” questions each candidate had been asked to answer:
- Why has the MRGCD now decided that farmers must pay for their own turnouts, check gates, etc.? Do you support this new policy?
Sichler approved of the policy change, saying it would help keep district taxes low.
“If the district had to put in turnouts, we’d have to raise taxes,” he said. Sichler said the current $28 per acre tax hasn’t been raised in 28 years. Albuquerque has many small holdings, so offering free turnouts would increase district expenditures significantly. He said most Socorro irrigators have large fields serviced by one turnout, so the cost per landowner is negligible. The district would still maintain turnouts for free, and charge only for the difference in cost to upgrade existing turnouts. Federal and state cost-share programs are available to defray construction costs.
Sichler said the Socorro Division was the only one in the district paying for turnouts.
“It had been a policy for the Socorro Division to pay for turnouts if the owners did improvements to their properties,” he said.
- How is the new water bank curtailment system working, and do you think curtailments will be handled this way in the future?
Sichler said given that the curtailment system is new this year, it probably isn’t working as well as it will once the bugs are worked out, but the policy is here to stay. Sichler said he helped write the new curtailment policy.
“The policy is based on comments from irrigators,” he said. “The water bank is a benefit to our community. It keeps land in use, green and productive.”
Owners of land from which water rights have been sold are allowed to lease water from the MRGCD when supply is sufficient. When the supply falls below target levels, water bank users are curtailed, or cut off from irrigating.
Sichler said the new curtailment system is more flexible than the old policy that required a directors meeting to lift a curtailment. Now, division managers and district hydrologists can lift curtailments to selected areas when local storms fill the ditches.
Sichler said the Socorro Division manager is working on a rotation system to make sure all water bank irrigators have a fair share of storm runoff.
- What were the major delays on the levy project? When do you realistically expect it to start and finish?
The U.S. Corps of Engineers levy project will strengthen the earthen berms on the west side of the river to protect the county from flood damage. Sichler cited funding and endangered species issues as reasons for the delay in re-engineering the levy. Landowners in floodplains not protected by engineered levies — like Socorro County’s — are required to purchase flood insurance or build their houses above historic flood levels. Sichler said he talked to MRGCD chief engineer Subhas Shah about the importance of the levy project to Socorro. The district along with other governmental entities then agreed to work together to fund the project. Sichler said the district worked with Rep.Steve Pearce and Sen. Tom Udall to craft a compromise to satisfy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s concerns about protecting endangered species habitat during the reconstruction.
Sichler said the levy project is expected to start in November, beginning with the section east of the city from Brown Arroyo to the Northern Diversion Channel. The project will proceed in sections until the levy is strengthened all the way from San Acacia to the Bosque del Apache. He said it should take about 15 years to complete.
Jericho Sanchez, who is challenging incumbent Chris Sichler for the Socorro County director’s position, canceled a week before the forum, citing a schedule conflict.
Sanchez will hold a public forum at Sofia’s Restaurant in Socorro on Saturday at 2 p.m. for those wanting to meet him.