ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Dozens of farmers from Socorro, Valencia, and Bernalillo counties, as well as the Isleta Pueblo, rode to Albuquerque on their tractor Monday to protest. They spoke out about how the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) is being run.
The farmers that made the trip said they rode up because they want a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about water and infrastructure that affect their livelihoods. That opportunity came Monday Evening at the MRGCD’s monthly board meeting.
Farmers said they made the slow trek to protest years of grievances and concerns which they say have fallen on deaf ears.
“For about the last three years, we’ve just been wanting answers from the MRGCD that are not coming,” stated Erica Desmet, a New Mexican dairy farmer, “Everybody wants the water. That’s not the issue. The issue is management. The mismanagement of the water from bureaucrats who aren’t farmers.”
One organizer, Mike Mechenbier, explained, “We’re showing our voice. We’re going to try to change some of the situation[s] with the conservancy to where we have a voice at the table to try to preserve our farmland.”
The farmers said the MRGCD doesn’t consult them about how water is diverted, especially this year with record water levels in the Rio Grande.
“We’ve lost or have had a real reduced production this year on our winter crops because of a lack of irrigation, and we’re gonna be out of business in another year or two,” Mechenbier said.
They claimed the department has not been maintaining the infrastructure to get the water to the farmers properly. They’re also questioning a tax increase to update this infrastructure, saying the money that goes towards MRGCD’s employee salaries should go towards the infrastructure first.
CEO and Chief Engineer of MRGCD Jason Casuga said these are important conversations they need to have.
“It’s important, and it does affect people’s lives, and I think we need to be able to articulate that better and hear their concerns and then provide the factual information we have for the decisions that we make,” Casuga said.
Both sides said there are necessary ingredients to fix these issues: transparency and accountability.
“I think it’s a fair conversation to ask, ‘Are we doing the right job of training our employees?'” Casuga said.
Another point of contention Monday: the farmers are asking why so much water is going to Texas, while they feel they aren’t getting enough.
Casuga said New Mexico is 92,000 acre-feet of water in debt to Texas. He explained they can’t store water for New Mexican farmers unless the compact is whole.
Casuga said they are working on making the logbooks of the irrigation system operators available online so that farmers can see the water schedules.