Legislature timing key in water project

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

MELROSE — The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority would like to become a governmental authority during the 2008 New Mexico Legislature — 30-day session or not.

During the water authority’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday at Melrose High School, members discussed the challenges in becoming a government authority.

The water authority is a joint powers agreement between the eight entities — Clovis, Portales, Elida, Melrose, Grady, Texico, and Curry and Roosevelt counties. Becoming a governmental authority would give the members better bond rates and the possible use of eminent domain for the Ute Water Project, which would pipe water from Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the entities.

Ute Water Project Manager Scott Verhines said he didn’t envision many state officials would object to legislation making the authority official, but said historically 30-day sessions such as 2008 are primarily limited to budget issues. To get shot down by the Legislature in 2008, Verhines said, would do damage to efforts to push similar legislation in 2009’s 60-day session.

Clovis Mayor and water authority chairman David Lansford worried that taking no action before the 2009 session would give the appearance the entities aren’t committed to the $432 million project, which would be funded at a 75/25/10 ratio between federal, state and local.

That’s key, Lansford said, if somebody has to testify in Washington, D.C., when Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., plan to introduce federal legislation next year to authorize the project.

“We’ve got to be in or out,” Lansford said. “Too much money has been spent, and is going to be spent (to wait).” Such legislation would likely need support from Governor Bill Richardson.

Verhines had no problem with that, and said work was under way so future meetings could cover the wording of possible legislation.

In other business at the meeting:

The group heard a report from Verhines on a Washington, D.C., trip he took earlier this month. Verhines met with staff members for the state’s Congressional delegation, the Bureau of Reclamation and various energy committees in both houses.

Kent Terry, Ute Dam manager, said the reservoir water level is at 186,530 acre feet, or 92 percent of authorized capacity. That’s down about 13,000 acre feet from the beginning of the year, but Terry said the reservoir is better off than most because they aren’t obligated to release any water if the water level is below 205,200 acre feet. An acre foot is about 325,000 gallons.

The next meeting is set for 3 p.m. Oct. 24 in Portales. Barring scheduling conflicts, Lansford said the meeting should be at City Hall.