Water project could get boost from Legislature

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

House bills beneficial to the Ute Water Pipeline Project are immersed in the many bills requesting money from the New Mexico legislative session.

Both Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega and Scott Verhines, Ute Pipeline Project manager, have been giving testimony during the legislative session in support of bills affecting the project.

Ortega and Verhines said they have been receiving positive feedback from committee members in regard to House Bill 121 and House Bill 134.

Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, is sponsoring HB 121, which would appropriate $280 million for statewide projects, including $70 million that would go to the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority members for the Ute Pipeline Project.

“This is a critical bill for us,” Ortega said. “This would cover the state’s portion of the pipeline project. If the bills are passed, they could be of great value to us.”

Verhines said the total cost of the Ute Water Pipeline — which would pipe water from Ute Lake near Tucumcari to Portales — is approximately $370 million. If HB 121 is approved, state government would have enough to pay for about 19 percent of the project.

Ortega was in Santa Fe on Monday in support of HB 121 while it was in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The ENMRWA’s eight-member group of Clovis, Portales, Melrose, Texico, Grady, Roosevelt, Elida and Curry counties are looking for between 75 to 80 percent funding from the federal government.

Rep. Andy Nunez, D-Dona Ana, is sponsoring HB 134, which would provide $100 million to assist with funding for state-wide water projects.

“I feel very optimistic,” Ortega said. “It’s exciting to see all of the activity of the bills, right now. I applaud the efforts of our representatives. There is a state-wide effort to support water projects. We’re in support of all of them.”

Verhines said the bills are in subcommittees of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The bills still need to go through House committees, a companion bill from the New Mexico Senate, approval from both the House and Senate and approval from Gov. Bill Richardson.

Verhines said there’s uncertainty how much, if any money will be appropriated for the water bills.

“The question is what we’re going to be competing against (other funding requests),” Verhines said. “How legislators will negotiate and determine what gets spent.”

Verhines said there will be an informal water day on Saturday in Santa Fe for legislators. He said on Saturday legislators will use this day to read and learn more information about state water projects.