Officials: Water pipeline groundbreaking to take place soon

Kevin Wilson

Members of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority had planned Thursday to announce a groundbreaking date for the first piece of the Ute Water Project, and announce it would take place soon.

But the definition of a groundbreaking changed.

At the authority’s meeting in Melrose, federal consultant John Ryan said he received indications that members of the state’s congressional delegation wanted to take part in a groundbreaking for the intake structure

The reason, Ryan said, was they wanted a groundbreaking to be more than announcement of a site acquisition, and include actual use of bulldozers and other equipment.

The authority is overseeing construction and operation of the Ute Water Project, a $500 million plan to pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to authority members in Clovis, Portales, Melrose, Texico, Elida and Grady. Roosevelt and Curry counties are also authority members.

The intake structure, or a pumping station, near the reservoir is the first construction since the project was authorized in 2009.

In other business at the meeting:

• The authority approved pre-qualification contracts for specialty contractors.

“We wanted to feel comfortable,” Project Manager Scott Verhines said, so a process was done to check the experience of smaller contractors on specific duties like blasting and micro-tunneling.

• State consultant Joe Thompson said the Legislature passed Senate Bill 209, which opened up negotiating between farmers and the authority, which could build pipeline locally and use it before it is connected to pipeline from the reservoir.

Verhines said the measure is a temporary solution, because it doesn’t address a dwindling aquifer, but it does serve short-term water needs and allows farmers with water rights to determine if it’s worthwhile to lower water consumption for capital gains.

Thompson said the legislative session was interesting because it was the first for Gov. Susana Martinez, and he could see the governor and the legislators testing their boundaries with each other.

• The authority approved requesting to the Bureau of Reclamation, which issues money for the project, a termination of a cooperative agreement.

That, Verhines said, is the term for $1 million already set aside for the authority. The authority has spent against that, and would terminate the agreement to use that money as both reimbursement and to create a general construction account that could be funded more easily than the cooperative agreement.

• Ryan, a state legislator, was not able to attend a recent Washington, D.C. trip to talk to the state congressional delegation or the Bureau of Reclamation. He said the project did not receive funding on President Obama’s 2012 budget due to a desire to handle Native American settlement projects first.

He said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring in 2012, should be inclined to help lay groundwork to fund the project future budgets so it can be included in a legacy of addressing water needs.

The sooner, the better, Clovis Mayor and Authority Chair Gayla Brumfield said, noting work started decades before she was elected to her position.

“People continually refer to it as a new project,” Brumfield said. “None of us think it’s new.

• The meeting was temporarily halted out of concern for Darrel Bostwick of Melrose.

Early in the meeting, Bostwick started to leave the room due to a cough. But he stumbled on the way out and hit the doorway, and authority representatives Randy Crowder of Clovis and Lewis Cooper of Texico jumped up to make sure he stayed on his feet.

The meeting continued about five minutes later. Bostwick returned to the meeting after he was checked out by Melrose paramedics. He said he had experienced shortness of breath, but felt fine.

• The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 20 in Santa Fe. The scheduling, Verhines said, is based on the state water trust board, and a desire to educate new board members on the project.