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Gwynne Ann Unruh is a former award winning reporter at the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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If you own property in the area that benefits from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD,) you are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, even if you don’t irrigate. There are seven candidates running for four vacant positions on the seven-member board of directors election on June 8. The MRGCD board manages irrigation and flood control from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir.

Throughout the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, the water supply in New Mexico had been unusually plentiful. In the early 1990s, geologists observed much less usable good-quality groundwater in the valley than had previously been thought. Cities in the state began to buy farmers’ surface water rights as insurance against the future. New Mexico currently owes 12 billion gallons of water to Texas each year under the Rio Grande Compact and is 32.5 billion gallons in arrears. With climate change, land development and the current drought conditions, the MRGCD Board is tasked with making sure the Rio Grande Valley remains a viable agricultural community.

Former State Senator Dede Feldman sees the election as a dangerous opportunity for commercial farmers to assert dominance within the board. “It took over a decade to wean the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District away from the dominance of large commercial farmers to the south and the utter disregard of the urban ratepayers in Albuquerque’s North and South Valley, who pay about two-thirds of the taxes but get little in return. Now there are two candidates running—Julia Maccini and Simon Haynes—to take the Conservancy back to the days when water conservation, bosque preservation and recreation along the ditches was a mere afterthought. This is a very dangerous trend in a time of global warming and the water shortage it presents,” Feldman said.

Who Are The Candidates?

Bernalillo County

Karen Dunning (incumbent), a former community planner for the City of Albuquerque, is seeking a fourth term on the board. She feels the board must include the community in decisions about managing water for ratepayers, large and small farmers and urban residents who recreate on MRGCD property.

Julia Maccini is an attorney who works for family-owned construction, real estate and farming businesses, including Architectural Contractors Inc. and is the Development Coordinator at SCM Partners LLC. She serves on the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Protection Advisory Board. The former staffer for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman advocates improving communication with farmers and stopping property tax increases. She helps farm property at the West Side Open Space Visitor Center and Alamo Farm.

Joaquin Baca, a hydrologist, has served on the board since 2017. Baca helped start a district conservation program that pays farmers to stop watering for a year and provides technical assistance.

Simon T. “Scooter” Haynes owns a real estate and construction business. He is past president of the New Mexico Chapter of the Certified Commercial Investment Member Institute. He irrigates and farms in the North Valley with fellow candidate Julia Maccini. Haynes says he’s a developer by trade with a hobby farming operation at Alamo Farm.

Socorro County

Glen Duggins served as an at-large board member from 2015 to 2019. He is the New Mexico Chile Association president and a Socorro County commissioner. “The board is currently out of touch with the agriculture community,” Duggins said. He wants to preserve the agricultural economy in the valley and help maintain large flood-irrigated farms for migratory bird habitat.

Steven Sichler is a sixth-generation farmer and leased his first farmland when he was 15. His family runs produce stands in Los Lunas and San Antonio. He is seeking to represent farming interests and ensure that the board meets its primary obligations for irrigation water delivery and flood control.

Michael T. Sandoval (incumbent) is running unopposed. The former San Felipe Pueblo governor worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a water resources civil engineer technician for 30 years before becoming the water resources specialist at San Felipe Pueblo. He believes a big issue facing the MRGCD is the rehabilitation of the El Vado Dam.

The election for the Board of Directors of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District will be held on Tuesday, June 8, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. For a list of polling locations, visit https://www.mrgcd.com/board-election-information-1.aspx

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