Committee formed to secure drinking water

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Members of the Ute Water Commission on Friday voted to form a subcommittee to research options for renewing a contract that reserves water as a drinking supply for eastern New Mexicans.

Members of the commission said extending the water reservation for 10 years could hamper the $307 million Ute Pipeline Project in a variety of ways: It could relay a message to Congress that there’s plenty of time to obtain federal funding; relax deadline pressure on Ute pipeline organizers to complete the project; and increase the cost of the project over time.

“If we go back to Washington and say we have a 12-year deadline, their natural response is going to be ‘we don’t have to hurry here,’” Clovis Mayor and commission member David Lansford said.

The contract expires on Dec. 31, 2006. The Ute Pipeline Project seeks to pipe water from Ute Lake in Logan to homes and businesses in Quay, Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Tucumcari City Manager Richard Primrose sent a letter to the Interstate Stream Commission in September asking to extend the reservation another 10 years at the current $1.50 per acre foot rate.

But Primrose caught flack from members of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority for sending the letter without consulting with the board.

Members of the Ute Water Commission heard comments from Lansford and Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, who raised another question: Can the entities afford their allotment after 10 years?

“If this project sits for another 10 years, I don’t think any of us can afford it,” Ortega said. “If we go beyond the four- or five-year range we might as well hang it up and do something else.”

Commission secretary Lee Tillman said a five-year contract renewal would be preferable, with an option to renew each year thereafter.

The subcommittee will meet with a committee of the ISC in the hopes of reaching a verbal agreement on renewing the contract. Both committees will then bring their conclusions back to their prospective committees for approval.

Ortega said he hopes the Ute Water Commission will have a contract renewal proposal to the ISC by late November.
Even so, there’s no telling whether or not the ISC will renew the commission’s contract to reserve the water.