ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – In the middle Rio Grande, it’s water that sustains farming, industry, and life. But millions of dollars worth of aging infrastructure is threatening the system.

“When we’re running water, things break. We have a lot of aging infrastructure,” Jason M. Casuga, the Chief Engineer and CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) said in a recent presentation to the organization’s board of directors. “There’s a whole lot of little stuff around the valley, and when you add all that up, it comes to significant dollars.”

In fact, there is more than $58 million worth of projects that the conservancy district needs to address in the next five or so years. When the dams crack and sinkholes form because of the infrastructure, it’s farmers and irrigators along the Rio Grande valley that suffer, Casuga explained.

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Images showing aged infrastructure. Courtesy MRGCD

The problems aren’t new. They’ve been developing for decades in many cases. For example, a drain along Highway 147 was built in 1955, extended in 1974, and created a sinkhole by 2021. That sinkhole was repaired temporarily, the conservancy district says.

Repairing or replacing old infrastructure is possible with enough cash. But right now, the conservancy district just doesn’t have enough.

“Problem is that the district is bringing in enough funding to cover operating costs, but not enough to cover debt service and capital expenditures,” Pamela Fanelli, the secretary-treasurer and chief financial officer for the district told board members in a presentation. Documents from the district show there’s been a budget deficit of more than $2 million over the last two fiscal years.

To make up the cost, the conservancy district is considering raising the mill rate – the property tax rate – and maybe securing grants and loans to fix infrastructure. An increase of 1 million would bring about $4.3 million, the district says and would be equivalent to a tax increase of $32 per year for a property worth $100,000.

The conservancy district’s board of directors will vote on the increase Monday, May 8. If approved, the tax rate will be set for the next five years.