Ute commission votes down new study request

By Kevin Wilson




CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson
Ute Water Commission Chair and Clovis Mayor David Lansford, left, listens to concerns from Tucumcari City Commissioner Robert Lumpkin on his desire for a new feasibility study of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System on Thursday afternoon at the Grady Senior Center.

GRADY — Echoing the wishes of various city and village commissions and councils, members of the Ute Water Commission on Thursday voted down a request for a new field study on the long-term feasibility of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System.

The vote was 7-4 vote, with all Curry and Roosevelt county entities voting against the motion and all Quay county entities voting for it.

Proponents said the study, which would have been funded through member contributions of around $2 per acre foot of water reserved at the Ute Reservoir, was necessary to reflect recent years of drought condition and felt it unwise to pin a $500 million project onto the findings of the 1994 Whipple Study.

“There are a number of questions about how the study (information) was gathered,” said Paul Karas of consulting firm CDM Smith, which gave an opinion at the meeting on the request of Tucumcari elected officials. “The biggest question was two decades of data since that study. We feel an independent study is appropriate.”

Karas noted the study had been followed up over the years by studies from outfits associated with the water authority, but they might not be appropriately comprehensive or independent.

Opponents of a new study felt another study would delay a process where information gathered is already adequate. Paul van Gulick, project manager for the ENMRWS, said a data model is complete through 2012.

“If we keep on searching for the holy grail of 100 percent complete data,” van Gulick said, “we’ll always be chasing it.”

Tucumcari City Commissioner Robert Lumpkin talked about a lack of input sought from Quay County entities after van Gulick spoke, and preceded him by noting that Logan, Tucumcari, San Jon and other communities depend on Ute Lake for their livelihood. Lumpkin said the reservoir has been losing an average 3,000 acre feet per year. If drought conditions are the new normal, Lumpkin fears the lake won’t support current recreation, let alone municipal water demands for Curry and Roosevelt counties.

“We’re concerned about homes and jobs,” Lumpkin said. “We need to know the truth. We need to take $50,000, $60,000 to know the truth. We’re not just saying no to the project, but we do have concerns. You wouldn’t want to build a $500 million project and have those (drought) conditions stay the same.”

Chair and Clovis Mayor David Lansford noted before the vote that members were tasked to go to their respective councils and commissions for guidance on voting, and many were voting the way they did regardless of their personal beliefs on the matter.

Lansford also noted, though it quickly became a moot point, that commission rules required any action item receive at least seven votes to represent a majority of all commission members and not just a majority of the quorum present. Each county has one vote, as do Clovis, Elida, Grady, Logan, Melrose, Portales, San Jon, Tucumcari and Texico. Roosevelt County did not have representation present.

Much of the meeting was dedicated to a suggestion by Logan’s Larry Wallin about eradicating salt cedar trees and other water-sapping vegetation on the land surrounding the lake and its tributaries.

Wallin, minutes before elected as the commission’s new vice chairman, said he had looked into work by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority on the trees and found that one acre with salt cedar can use anywhere from 3 to 7 acre feet of water per year. An acre foot the volume of one acre of land with a foot of water, and is equivalent to 325,861 gallons.

Wallin wasn’t sure how many acres of land around the reservoir had salt cedar trees, but that 410 acres of the trees eradicated would cover the total water needs of Logan, San Jon and Grady. Treating 4,800 acres, Wallin estimated, could account for the entire 24,000 acre feet that is annually reserved by commission members.

Members were in favor, with Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick saying the idea makes more sense than another water study and he wouldn’t mind each member going to their councils and commissions to ask for funding. But Clovis City Attorney David Richards said language of the commission’s joint powers agreement forbid such action, and that the commission was limited to actions associated directly with reservation of water and reapportionment should an entity drop out.

To change that, Richards said, the commission would have to approve an amendment changing its functions, and all 12 entities would have to get the amendment approved at the local level. Bostwick asked Richards to come back with possible amendments for the next meeting.

Clovis City Commissioner Randy Crowder, who also serves on the Interstate Streams Commission, said a subcommittee has approved doing such work on the Ute Creek area, but the measure has not gone to the full commission. He did note that time for spraying has already passed this year.

“You’re spot on with where you want to go, but your timing is a little off,” Crowder said. Members asked Crowder if he would get the subcommittee to look into expanding its work on behalf of the commission; he said while the subcommittee was not his, he would be glad to bring suggestions to the full committee.

Durward Dixon of Elida asked for an action item for the next commission meeting to create a committee to study the issue of salt cedar trees and other water-sapping vegetation.