The Upper Gila Arroyos Watershed District (UGAWD) is one of those things Cliff and Gila residents depend on but forget it is even there. The Gila Valley is a picturesque farming community, with strong property values and is rapidly becoming a bedroom community to Silver City. The Gila Valley is a livable place partly due to the Watershed District.
Between 1958 and 1964 twelve flood control structures were built in side canyons entering the valley. These dams protect two state highways, three irrigation ditches and numerous farms. The quality of water entering the Gila River is much improved because the sediments carried by the flood water settles out behind the dams. New Mexico’s soil is retained in the watershed and does not go to Arizona in the form of muddy water.
See Map below the letter.
The dams were financed through the federal public law 566. Their design and the construction was overseen by the Soil Conservation Service. The Grant Soil & Water Conservation District obtained the easements where they could be located. Local farmer and rancher George Jackson was the force behind the U G A W D. George contacted every land owner in the district explaining that they didn’t have to constantly rebuild their roads, irrigation ditches and farmland. The result was the formation of the watershed district, within the Grant Soil & Water Conservation District.
The dams were designed to function for 50 years. We are now nearly 60 years into the life of Upper Gila Arroyos Watershed District and it will continue to protect the valley for many more years. The sediment pool of one structure had to be cleaned out before 50 years and two were cleaned right at 50 years but nine of the dams have required nothing more than routine maintenance to this point and will continue to function for many years in the future.
The Upper Gila Arroyos Watershed District is governed by five, publicly elected directors. All 12 structures are inspected by The Dam Safety Division of the State Engineers Office every year. The Watershed District can tax up to 5 mils for the maintenance of the dams. At five mils the district takes in about $36,000 dollars a year. General maintenance of these dams doesn’t usually cost that much for these aging structures but the board of directors is looking at repair of a spillway which will cost an estimated $100,000. Budgeting for the UGAWD is not easy.
Under the system dictated by the Watershed District Act (73-20-1 through 73-20-24) only those who live within the district, those who receive the protection, are taxed. Also, only those who live within the district can serve on the board of directors and only district residents can vote.
This November’s election ballot contains two board members from the UGAWD. They are Topper Martin Thorpe and Garret Allsup. They are unopposed. Hopefully residents of the Cliff-Gila area will give them a vote anyway. That is the only thanks they will get. This is a completely voluntary position and it is not easy setting a tax rate on your neighbor. And remember, Topper and Garret pay the tax as well.
Duston L. Hunt, Jr.
Mangas Springs, NM