Entities in water project looking at alternatives

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

TEXICO — As the eight remaining entities of the Ute Water Project move forward, their respective members continue to work to make sure the loss of four entities doesn’t set them back.

Many of the issues brought up during Wednesday’s Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority meeting at Texico’s city hall dealt with keeping the pipeline project in line for the remaining eight entities.

The $300-million project, which members will count mainly on federal dollars to fund, includes building a pipeline to pump water from Ute Lake near Logan across eastern New Mexico to communities that include Clovis and Portales.

Entities in the Quay County area — San Jon, Logan, Quay County and the City of Tucumcari — are the members that have dropped out.

“We’ve been looking at what the water system should look like without those members there,” Project Manager Scott Verhines said. “As a part of that, we’ve been going through these decision-making workshops on what we’ve been carrying forward.”

The eight that still remain are Clovis, Portales, Grady, Elida, Melrose, Texico and Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Verhines said that CH2M Hill, an engineering group based in Albuquerque, has created six alternatives that would accomplish the basic goal of the project for the entities that remain.

Verhines is optimistic that CH2M Hill can complete its analysis before Sept. 21, when members of the authority are set to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak to the state’s congressional delegation.

The authority’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14 in Clovis so the group can take care of last-minute items before the trip. Verhines and Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Clovis Mayor David Lansford, did not see eye-to-eye on who would be making that trip. Ortega argued against bringing CH2M representatives on the trip due to expenses.

“Mayor Ortega is conscious of the budget and what everybody’s costs are and questioned whether this was the proper time to bring the technical people,” Verhines said. “I feel like it’s a good time to do it and he feels like it may not be the time. We work for them, so we’ll defer to them.”

Verhines’ contract was also a topic of discussion, one Verhines expected. Verhines said that when his contract was negotiated, it was with the condition that all of the members in the project went back to their cities and got approval for the services.

Portales had such a meeting Monday night, Ortega said. He said city officials requested a monthly activity report from Verhines, but he was optimistic they’d approve the services in due time.

“It’s important that we do have project management,” he said. “It’s how we’ve got to this point.”

The biggest issue that Verhines sees on the horizon is ensuring that the water supply at Ute Reservoir is clean enough as economic development increases in the area.

The water authority is very much in favor of that economic development that could (happen) in Quay County,” Verhines said. “We just want to make sure that as development takes place, measures are put into place to ensure that water quality in Ute Reservoir is connected because it’s going to act as the primary water source for these eight entities.”

Verhines noted that the Quay County entities have been very supportive of the project and have reiterated that support at numerous public meetings.