Letter: Why Julia And Scooter Are The Right Candidates
June 3, 2021
Dear MRGCD Constituent,
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) Board of Directors election on Tuesday, June 8. The candidates and challengers, Scooter Haynes and Julia Maccini in Bernalillo County, and Steven Sichler in Socorro County, are what is needed to get the MRGCD back on track. They are good people. They care about the Middle Rio Grande valley and its future. They are smart, energetic, and have fresh ideas. Most importantly, they understand how important the MRGCD is to the valley, and what is realistically needed to make it work for you.
I retired from the MRGCD last week. For over 25 years I was the MRGCD’s hydrologist and Water Operations Manager. It has been my pleasure, and privilege to have served you over these many years. I could not have had a more interesting and rewarding career, and I consider myself fortunate. I have a great love and respect for our Rio Grande and the people of this valley who depend on it in so many ways. The Rio Grande is indeed the precious lifeblood of our valley.
I’ve worked with the MRGCD Board, including current Board members for my entire career. I’m in the interesting position of personally knowing and liking all the candidates in this election. I respect them all. I consider them all friends. I’ve worked many years with the incumbents. I know they believe they are making the best choices for the District.
Unfortunately, they are on the wrong path. The things they promise, irrigation, recreation, cultural amenities, species health, etc., will not be realized without fiscal and managerial responsibility and change. They will lose the very things they try to preserve as the MRGCD collapses under its own weight. The valley will change, and become steadily less green, less productive, and less pleasant to live in.
I am concerned with the direction the MRGCD is headed. It is a good entity, providing an essential function. Its constituents are probably most familiar with its canals and the delivery of irrigation water to farmers and homeowners. The MRGCD’s role in drainage and flood control throughout the valley is not well known. MRGCD facilities and maintenance efforts are nearly invisible, but are essential in making the valley inhabitable. MRGCD facilities have a major influence on Rio Grande Compact delivery obligations to Texas, and protecting the Middle Rio Grande residents’ water supply and property interests. MRGCD owns, manages, and maintains some of New Mexico’s most treasured amenities, namely the Rio Grande bosque and the elaborate network of canals, drains, and acequias that make our region unique. In so many ways MRGCD truly keeps the valley green.
But will it stay that way? The MRGCD has been growing, and not always in a good way. Like most government entities, it always tended to be a little bureaucratic. Over the past 5 years that bureaucracy has exploded. MRGCD staffing has increased by about 35%, predominantly at the managerial and administrative level. The MRGCD had about 160 employees 5 years ago. Today it is closer to 220. For comparison, most similarly sized water management entities in the western US have less than 50 employees. Admittedly there are some unique features to MRGCD that make it inherently less efficient (geography, origins) but it has still become decidedly top-heavy.
About 5 years ago significant changes were made in working hours and time-keeping. The timeclock was removed from the office. “Flex-time” was introduced and managerial/administrative staffers largely set their own hours, and tele-working was allowed (before Covid-19). Some employees do this responsibly, but no-doubt some abuse the privilege. “Flex-time” creates inefficiency as co-workers schedules don’t coincide, and constituents find it difficult to contact staff during MRGCD office hours (M-F, 8:00-4:30).
For field staff, a “4-10” schedule was introduced. Where previously MRGCD field staff (labor, equipment, mowing, debris, etc.) was on the job Monday-Friday, they now work Monday-Thursday. This reduction in the work week left a vacuum. The change to 10-hour days supposedly meant crews going out an hour earlier and returning to the yard an hour later. For years I saw our field staff going out of the yard at 7:30, and returning at 2:30. That didn’t seem to change much after the switch to 10-hour workdays. Recently some field crews were working Fridays, perhaps in response to constituents’ frustration that 4 days a week is not enough. That adds cost to overtime budgets.
These staffing changes have had a significant impact on the MRGCD budget. From 2015 to 2020 MRGCD’s “people” costs grew by about 40%. Has the value you get from MRGCD increased by as much over that time? The expanded staff required expanded offices. A significant re-modeling project occurred at the MRGCD general office. Others are planned for other offices. New furniture and vehicles have been purchased. Many of those vehicles are now authorized for “take-home” use. The last time I looked about 130 MRGCD staff were authorized to drive their official vehicles back and forth to the office. MRGCD spends a lot of money on fuel. Cost is no object, and budgets seem merely suggestions.
Over the last several years the MRGCD has become very responsive to the wishes of Federal agencies, especially the Bureau of Reclamation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Cooperation and coordination with these federal agencies is essential. But more and more it appears that MRGCD is subservient to the federal mission at the expense of its constituents. The BOR’s primary mission in the MRG valley is flood control and water conveyance. Over the last 30 or so years BOR has drifted away from that Congressionally authorized task. The current Compact water deficit is due in no small way to BOR’s neglect of floodway maintenance and focus on so-called “environmental restoration”. While that may sound like a good thing, the reality is that this hurts fish, wildlife, and bosque. The inability to reliably deliver water to Elephant Butte reservoir prevents the use of water in the MRG and the storage of water in upstream reservoirs. If New Mexico does not receive rain this summer, the Rio Grande will likely stop flowing through Albuquerque for the first time in 38 years. If this occurs, it will be a direct result of BOR’s “environmental restoration” work, and lack of proper floodway maintenance.
Similarly, the MRGCD has become too eager to assist the FWS. This began with the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow (RGSM) agreements in the early 2000’s, culminating in the 2016 Biological Opinion (BO). The 2016 BO listed certain activities that the MRGCD would perform to assist the federal agencies to protect and preserve the RGSM and 4 other species. It was a fair compromise, and MRGCD has faithfully performed its part via water measurement, water efficiency efforts, and more. Increasingly MRGCD has been doing things for FWS not related to endangered species. Recently MRGCD purchased equipment and provided water to the Bosque del Apache refuge. This was at MRGCD expense, your MRGCD ad-valorem tax and water service charges. When federal funding to BOR was insufficient to fund FWS bird surveys, MRGCD wrote the check. State and Federal agencies have always cooperated on the Rio Grande, but this has primarily been with knowledge and time. Now it appears federal agencies are looking to MRGCD to support activities their own budgets have not funded.
I endorse and highly recommend Scooter Haynes and Julia Maccini in Bernalillo County, and Steven Sichler in Socorro County for election to the MRGCD Board. Their fresh perspectives are needed. They will represent you well, and I believe will place the MRGCD on a responsible path to protect and preserve our lovely and special valley.