Merilee Dannemann, columnist

My old friend Robert Daigh liked to joke that he was in the “used beer and groceries” business. That was his bit of earthy humor when talking about the community water and sanitation district that he helped to create.

My friend was a founding board member of El Valle de los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District, officially formed in 1979 to serve several unincorporated communities south of Taos — Talpa, Ranchos de Taos, Cordillera and Los Cordovas.

As I write this today, three candidates are running for an at-large position on that board.

The mission of the district was, and still is, to provide safe drinking water and a wastewater system. As an entity of government with power to tax and eminent domain, it had to go through a lengthy administrative process to create itself.

Dozens of candidates are running for board positions in special purpose districts that preserve the soil, water and livability of their communities and that most of us know nothing about. Like my friend, the people who go to the trouble of running for an obscure public office, so they can serve without pay on one of these boards, are local heroes.

If you have not voted yet in the local election, you still have time. You can find your complete sample ballot at

You might face some frustration finding information about the candidates for these districts. Checking their websites, I found most districts are not posting election information.

There is some information on the League of Women Voters vote411 website.

Districts have different purposes. Here is what the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts says:

“New Mexico has over 77 million acres of forest, range, cropland, pasture, and other lands. The stewards of these lands include federal (25%), state (12%), and local governments (2%); tribes (16%); and over 10,000 ranchers and farmers (45%). These stewards came together over 50 years ago at the local level to form the 47 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) under New Mexico state law, to help them in their stewardship responsibilities.”

The Carlsbad district’s website provides historical background. Conservation districts, it says, “work in partnership with NMDA (Department of Agriculture), other state and federal agencies, and various organizations to advance conservation on private and public lands in their area. If authorized by voters in the district, SWCDs may collect a mill levy on lands in the district, up to a maximum of one mill.”

Soil and water conservation districts were created by Congress during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which resulted from severe erosion.

“In 1933 the Congress created the Soil Erosion Service (which was later changed to the Soil Conservation Service in 1935). Since about three-fourths of the continental United States is privately owned, Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation work on private land.

“In 1937, President Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts. New Mexico adopted the soil conservation district act in the same year.”

Among its projects, the Carlsbad district promotes healthy soils, healthy plant life and species diversity across both public and private lands.

The Otero district, based in Alamogordo, has a watershed restoration program involving small dams and a cost-sharing program where landowners can apply to address any natural resource issue.

The Upper Rio Grande Watershed District currently operates and maintains seven flood control structures along the Rio Grande as it flows through the Ohkay Owingeh area.

Every district has a story, a history and a purpose. And, right now, a few candidates are asking for your vote.

Contact Merilee Dannemann through


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