Water authority explores legalization

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

Following what the members called a successful field hearing for the Ute Water Project, the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority discussed a roadmap toward becoming a true authority at Wednesday’s meeting.

Clovis City Attorney Dave Richards, answering legal questions on request of Clovis Mayor and ENMRWA Chairman David Lansford, said the authority more closely resembles a joint powers agreement at this point.

An authority would take on a more governmental role, with the powers to regulate the creation and maintenance of the Ute Water Project, a proposed pipeline that would carry reserved water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the ENMRWA’s eight entities.

Lansford and Melrose representative Darrel Bostwick felt Tuesday’s field hearing, featuring Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., went well.

“I feel like we’re in the best position we’ve ever been in to get this done,” Bostwick said.

Authority duties could include acquisition or condemnation of property through eminent domain, but project manager Scott Verhines said the authority likely wouldn’t need those powers.

An authority label, he said, would be more useful for getting larger bonds and better bond rates than if the entities worked separately on finding bonds for the project, which currently carries a $432 million price tag.

“We need to show a clear commitment to the project,” Lansford said, “and if changing this authority into a true authority would demonstrate we are committed, we should work on it.”

One principal change, Lansford noted, is authority members would likely be elected, whether at-large or by district. Most current members are already elected officials in other capacities.

Verhines said the Bernalillo County-Albuquerque Water Authority is a good rough draft in creating such an authority. Whatever the authority creates, it would need state Legislature approval. The 2008 Legislature is a 30-day session, and Verhines said such approval could come in the 2009 Legislature as well.

Meetings watch
The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority met Wednesday at the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library:

Ute Water Project Manager Scott Verhines said he was taking a trip to Washington, D.C., to follow up on the field hearing and what needs to be done in advance of a 2008 bill for federal authorization. He told members he expected the field hearing testimony to be posted online at energy.senate.gov shortly after Congress returns from recess after Labor Day.

Kent Terry, the dam manager at Ute Reservoir, said the reservoir was 2 feet below its allowed limit — a drop from his last report, but expected because of recent heat.

The authority approved a resolution giving Verhines the duty to apply to the state water trust board for funds associated with creating a 30-percent design for the project.