Ute water presentation well-received

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

After waiting more than four hours for a state committee to hear its case, the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority needed about 30 minutes to get a favorable response.

Authority members made a short presentation during Monday’s session of the state Legislature’s water and natural resources committee meeting at the Clovis Civic Center.

The meeting resumes today at 9 a.m. and will cover removal of water-depleting plants.

Authority members sought Legislature support and input for the $436 million Ute Water Project, which would involve the construction and maintenance of a pipeline from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to participating cities and counties.

Project Manager Scott Verhines said a “full court press” on the project is under way and will take place over the next two years as members seek federal authorization and funding. Verhines said members sought to build a coalition and get the necessary support from the state (15 percent funding) and the federal government (75 percent).

Regarding the federal portion, Verhines said Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., are scheduled for an Aug. 14 field hearing meeting in Clovis and are optimistic about the project’s chances of success.

“There is no water rights issue,” Verhines said, “and there is no Native American rights settlement issues about the project.”

Legislators with authority member communities in their districts offered complimentary comments to the authority, but Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said federal and state funding was becoming a “chicken and egg” issue.

“If the feds put up $500 million, the state would have no problem (picking up its share of $65.5 million),” Harden said. “The feds are looking for us to step up to the plate first.”

Larry Larranaga, R-Bernalillo, asked Clovis Mayor and ENMRWA Chairman David Lansford about what leverage the authority would have with the federal government.

Larranaga asked if the authority had ever used the presence of Cannon Air Force Base as a reason to fund the Ute Water Project.

Lansford said there were fears such leverage would be negated by a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. With a new mission scheduled for Cannon, Lansford said he hoped to be able to use the base as leverage in 2008.