County farmers can heave a big sigh of relief. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy (MRGC) Board successfully negotiated a contract to obtain 70,000 acre feet of water from the City of Albuquerque. Now, county irrigation ditches will not close on June 21, as previously anticipated.
“We have got enough water to last the entire season,” said Subhas Shah, chief engineer and CEO of MRGC, who did most of the work on the contract.
“The water should be released in about a month,” Shah said Friday. Shah put together the contract in a few days, and the Albuquerque City Council approved it on Monday night.
The source of the water, the Abiquiu Reservoir, is a loan to the conservancy district and must be repaid within 15 years. The Bureau of Reclamation plans to purchase 40,000 acre feet of water from the city with funds coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) has already asked Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman for immediate aid due to drought conditions throughout the state.
“The ties between urban New Mexico and rural New Mexico are still strong,” Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said at a press conference at city hall Friday. “What we’re doing on the part of the city is being good neighbors, good New Mexicans.
“I can’t have farmers be devastated, when we in Albuquerque have water in storage. I think it’s the right thing to do” for them.
José Otero, chairman of the MRGC Board, thinks the water loan and quick action of the city were possible due to Chavez.
“We have to be very thankful to the mayor,” Otero, a Peralta resident, said. “I don’t think we would have gotten this kind of cooperation from the previous mayor.
“I really can’t see anyone complaining,” Otero said. “We are providing for our people, and we have to provide for the farmers of the valley, as best we can.”
On Monday, June 10, at 6 p.m., the MRGCD will hold a public meeting in the Belen Council Chambers and on June 21 will meet in the Village of Los Lunas council chambers at 620 Main Street.
Gary Perry, vice chairman of the board, from Socorro County, pointed out that at least 40,000 acre feet of water are needed for the silvery minnow.
The negotiated water would also ensure the minnow’s survival.
“I feel it’s a win-win situation for the minnow and the farmers,” Perry said.
On Thursday, 2000 minnows that were raised in captivity at the Albuquerque Zoo were released into the Rio Grande just north of Albuquerque’s old Alameda bridge.
Without water negotiations, county farmers would have lost approximately two-thirds of their income from alfalfa and other crops.
“It would have been financial ruin for several of the farmers,” said Mike Mechenbier, who farms in Adelino.
“It would have had a severe effect on the ranchers in the rest of the state, with alfalfa going to $6 a bale,” Mechenbier said.
“I would just like to thank the mayor for getting us off the gallows,” he said at Friday’s press conference.
The question arose as to whether the water loan would seriously drain the Abiquiu Reservoir, which holds 100,000 acre feet of water.
“Abiquiu itself won’t be drained and 60,000 acre feet will be left,” a spokesman for the mayor said.
Chavez pointed out that the drought has driven home the significance of water.
“All of us who inhabit the Rio GrandeValley have become aware of how fragile we are,” Chavez said.