Clovis mayor testifies before Senate committee

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Clovis Mayor David Lansford testified Wednesday before a U.S. Senate Committee about a bill that may help rural communities secure long-term sources for drinking water.

His testimony comes at a time when eastern New Mexico communities are working to secure federal and state funding for a massive pipeline project that would provide water from Ute Reservoir to the region.

“This legislation shows great leadership on the part of the U.S. Senate, and in years to come will be recognized as the key legislation which allowed for economic growth, (and) better quality of life …” Lansford said in a prepared statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The legislation is known as the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2005, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., according to a press release from their offices.

“We are very cognizant that time is of the essence for us,” Lansford said. “Not only are our groundwater supplies running out, but our water purchase agreement with the state of New Mexico is time sensitive, and construction costs are escalating annually.”

The bill addresses the inability of many rural communities to afford new water projects, by authorizing $20 million per year for planning new water delivery infrastructure and establishing a loan guarantee program within the Bureau of Reclamation to help communities finance new water projects, the press release said.

“There are too many people in rural America who have substandard access to drinking water, or worse, no access at all,” Domenici said in the press release. “This includes more than 100 rural communities in New Mexico that lack sufficient water supply and water-treatment facilities.”

Lansford linked his testimony to the ongoing effort to develop a pipeline project that will benefit 12 communities across eastern New Mexico. Authorities say in the next 20 to 30 years the Ogalalla Aquifer, the area’s prime water source, will be depleted.

“Ours is a unique initiative in New Mexico and we are all learning the ropes and developing processes together,” Lansford told the committee. “The current initiative for the (Ute pipeline) began over six years ago as a collaboration of the 12 community and county members.”

In a phone interview Wednesday night, Lansford explained that the Bureau of Reclamation is now asking the community to look at alternatives to the pipeline project, including developing more ground water supplies and tapping brackish water. Those requests, he said, would only delay the project and may never come to anything.

“We don’t believe that it’s necessary to start exploring numerous alternatives when every conceivable alternative only delays the inevitable,” he said. “At some point in time there will be virtually not enough water in that aquifer to sustain our community.”

The pipeline project is estimated to cost about $330 million in today’s dollars. Area officials say the project will require upwards of $200 million from the federal government to complete. Lansford has said he hopes groundbreaking can happen in three years.

Lansford was accompanied by Portales Mayor David Ortega.