irrigation district receives $ 2.9 million to help producers and infrastructure | Local News

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A regional irrigation district received a federal grant of $ 2.9 million, officials say may seem like a small amount to help struggling small producers and improve infrastructure, but is expected to have a significant impact.

The District of Middle Rio Grande Conservancy is to contribute matching funds or services out of money the United States Department of Agriculture has provided to increase the efficiency of systems that provide water to low-income producers – including military veterans, Hispanic producers and tribal farms – as well as the aquatic habitat of protected species.

Irrigation officials say improving water distribution systems is vital as global warming causes more severe droughts that deplete river flows.

“It’s not a huge grant, but I think it will make a big difference, especially for a lot of [smaller] farmers, ”said Joaquin Baca, director of the district council representing Bernalillo County. “The small farmers who do not make a living, when the water supply is insufficient, they are the ones who struggle the most.

The 10,000-member district has five years to use the grant money. About 70 percent of the funds will help small producers modernize irrigation, such as installing larger upstream pipes and valves for more and freer flow of water diverted from the Rio Grande to properties.

The remainder of the money will be used to improve infrastructure, including preventing sections of the river, especially below the Isleta Diversion Dam, from drying up and threatening the survival of the Silvery Minnow and Shiner. other endangered species, Baca said.

A key part of this effort will be to improve the outlets that return excess irrigation water to the river, said Mike Hamman, CEO and chief engineer of the conservation district.

The district is partnering with conservation groups such as Audubon in New Mexico and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which provide matching funds for this part of the grant, Hamman said.

Hamman said the district has requested further federal grants to help growers meet the challenges of an increasingly arid state. For example, a grant, if secured, would allow the district to double its 200 water measuring stations so it can more closely manage the supply, he said.

“It was just a pot of funding that we were able to take advantage of to expand our service to our water users and become a more efficient operation in terms of… upcoming global climate change and other unknowns,” said Hamman.

Casey Ish, district water resources specialist, said helping small producers to waste less water will be as important as improving outlets to maintain sufficient river flow for wildlife during peak periods. ‘irrigation.

“Because we’ve made our irrigation system more efficient overall, we don’t have to divert so much water, leaving more water in the river,” Ish said.

But Glen Duggins, a longtime Socorro County board member and farmer, objected to small part-time producers being the first in line for what he saw as an unfair giveaway.

All producers should have an equal chance of funding, even if they are commercially established, Duggins said, arguing that all producers in the middle valley are losing money.

Small producers who have other jobs and treat farming as a side job or hobby have no chance of becoming profitable, no matter how much subsidy they receive, Duggins said. They will never become engaged and self-sufficient if they are financially supported, he said.

“If they can’t fend for themselves, are we going to fully support them for the rest of the time?” Duggins said.


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