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Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District voting begins for three open positions

The Rio Grande at Isleta Blvd. and Interstate 25 on Sept. 7, 2023.
Anna Padilla
Source New Mexico
The Rio Grande at Isleta Blvd. and Interstate 25 on Sept. 7, 2023.

Early voting starts on Tuesday for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District where three positions are up for election.

Board members of the Conservancy District make decisions that impact all of us, like maintaining river flood protection, drainage, and water storage for irrigation in the middle Rio Grande Valley, from Cochiti to Socorro.

The district also has powers equivalent to a county. It can sue and be sued, issue bonds, tax and assess fines and it has the power to take property for the public good.

“They're the ones that set policy for the Conservancy District and how the water flows down the Rio Grande, what gets diverted to agriculture, what gets diverted to other uses like recreation,” said Karen Wentworth, vice president of the League of Women Voters New Mexico, which created a voter guide for the election. Voters can search by state or by their address.

There are seven members of the Conservancy District board who serve staggered four-year terms. Three members represent Bernalillo County, and one member each represents Sandoval, Socorro and Valencia Counties with one member selected for the position at-large.

Three slots are up for election on October 3, 2023: an at-large director and one each for Valencia and Bernalillo counties.

Candidates must be property owners and live in the district they seek to represent. You can find information on voting based on your address at 411vote.org.

Current Board Chair Stephanie Russo Baca is running for re-election for the at-large position. She is a water attorney with a background in agriculture. She is a staff attorney at the Utton Center at the UNM School of Law with both an Indian Law and Natural Resources and Environmental Law certificates.

Baca’s opponent is Jerome Cordova who is a 5th generation farmer. He is also owner and manager of an Albuquerque security firm.

For Valencia County, Kirsten Couevas is running as a local farmer and land steward who also sits on the board for the Young Farmers Coalition.

Running against Couevas is Brian Jiron, a local farmer who supervised the Pueblo of Isleta Range and Irrigation department for 8 years.

Running unopposed for the Bernalillo County position is incumbent John P. Kelly. He’s an engineer who managed the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority for 11 years.

According to Wentworth, she says one of the biggest challenges commissioners face is how they're going to tackle climate change.

“Right now we're facing a time when there's very very little water in the river,” she said. “And these commissioners are going to have to decide how the Conservancy District is going to react to that changing weather pattern.”

In order to vote, an individual must be a property owner within the Middle Rio Grande district.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation and KUNM listeners. 

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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