Ute pipeline backers head to Washington

David Arkin and TV Hagenah

Lawmakers in the nation’s capital on Wednesday got the ball rolling for a project that some believe could be the answer to Eastern New Mexico’s water needs.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., introduced the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Act of 2004 on Wednesday to Congress, which would allow the U.S Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $250 million to assist the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority in constructing a pipeline. The pipeline would carry water to several communities throughout the immediate area, including Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties.

The water which would originate in Ute Reservoir is expected to help all three counties in a variety of ways.
Tucumcari City Manager and ENMRWA representative Richard Primrose said the introduction of the legislation is good news for the entire area.

“This project is very important and very complex,” said . “We have to have federal funding to help. With the costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars there would be no chance with out federal funding.”

Fellow member of the ENMRWA and Clovis Mayor David Lansford agreed with Primrose about the value of the legislation.

“We are thankful that both of our senators have been working diligently to get this bill introduced,” said Lansford.
Next week, Primrose, Lansford and Scott Verhines, project manager for the water authority and a number of other water authority members, will travel to Washington D.C. to discuss with senators and representatives the value of the projects.

“We will be giving specifics about the project,” Lansford said. “We will talk about the need for the project.”

Primrose said they would talk to a number of different senators and congressmen to try to get the message of the value of the project across.

“We will be talking to congressional leaders so they understand the value of this,” said Primrose

Money for the project would be split between federal, state and local funding. Local officials are asking 80 percent of the funding come from the federal government, while the state and local governments would each carry 10 percent.

Primrose said the $250 million in federal funds wouldn’t all come in one lump sum, but rather be spread out over time.

“They (the planners of the water project) anticipate that this will take approximately 10 years to complete,” said Primrose.

Bingaman said the time was right to construct an eastern New Mexico pipeline.

“Much of eastern New Mexico is served by the Ogallala Aquifer, which is depleting faster than it’s recharging,” he said. “There are steps we can take to extend the life of the aquifer, and some of them are being taken. But to ensure eastern New Mexico’s water needs are met into the future, the time has come to construct the Ute pipeline.”

In addition to Bingaman’s legislation, Rep. Tom Udall introduced a “companion measure” in the House this week.

Udall said he thought the project would affect economic development in eastern New Mexico for many years.