Water funding request cut short

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

Consideration of just how much project funding is likely this year topped discussions of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority’s monthly meeting Wednesday in Clovis.

ENMRWA requested $5 million in Ute Water Project funding from the 2007 New Mexico Legislature thinking the timing was right for their request since Governor Bill Richardson had proclaimed before the start of the session this would be the “Year of Water.” Instead they wound up with just $1 million.

In addition to that worry, is the $2.2 million requested from the state’s Water Trust Board, and how much of that will be forthcoming. In recent years requests from that board have been cut in half.

The board’s goal, stated in previous meetings, is to accomplish 30 percent of the design work on the Ute Water Project. That is the threshold project managers have been told is necessary before serious consideration of the project would be given by Congress.

With full funding of requests to the Legislature and the WTB the 30 percent design threshold could have been reached by the end of 2008. Now the board has to come up with a strategy to make up the gap.

“I think we need to find a logical level of design that we can pay for over the next year,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford, chairman of the board said.

Lansford said he was opposed to moving ahead if the funding wasn’t clearly in place to pay for the design work, but he and other board members agreed with Project Engineer Scott Verhines that the board should explore other options before settling for less.

Among those options were:

— Having Verhines discuss the funding gap with New Mexico Finance Authority officials, who OK’s requests made through the WTB, about increasing their request.

— Getting a meeting with Richardson or his staff to discuss ways to overcome the shortfall.

— Wait until next year’s Legislature to see if the funding could be completed in that cycle.

“I think we could make a good case to get closer to this number,” Verhines said. “We’re consistently (ranked) in the top five projects in the state.”

Verhines said that before the session, state officials had been recommending that the top 10 projects in the state be fully funded.

The board also discussed the need for a clear communications plan once the project begins seeking easements from property owners who are in the pipeline’s path.

“We need to do a good job up front before we start tromping across a field,” Lansford said. “When you start talking with rural America about the use of their land, you’re dealing with a whole different mindset.”

Lansford said his priority for those who do that communication would be to respect property owners rights.

“Whoever that person is, they have to believe in the project,” chimed in Clovis Mayor Pro Tem and board member Randy Crowder.

Meetings watch
In other business the board:
— The board also heard a report from Greg Gates with CH2M Hill, the engineering firm for the Ute Water Project, on a feasibility study just completed on the possible incorporation of a wind farm in the overall project.
He said bringing an equity partner into the wind project would have the advantage of less capital required of the board and would eventually lead to ownership.
Verhines said that the cost of power would 50 to 60 percent of the operations and management cost of the Ute Water Project. He said that original estimates showed that cost might be trimmed by 17 percent if a wind project were added.

— Heard a report from Ute Dam Manager Kent Terry on the condition of the reservoir and the Interstate Stream Commission’s Master Plan update. Terry told the group that the ISC will be holding its regular
meeting in Logan at 1 p.m. on April 11 with tours of the lake area prior to the meeting.

— Tentatively set their next meeting for May 2 in Santa Fe at the New Mexico Municipal League chambers. The Santa Fe trip would allow board members to attend the next WTB meeting in which funding would be determined and possibly offer an opportunity to meet with the governor.

— Appointed Dave Richards, Wesley Shafer and Darrel Bostwick to serve as the Public Involvement Committee.

— Discussed the timing of possible public hearings and meetings with the state’s
congressional delegation in late May.