Pipeline faces New Mexico legislators

Darrell Todd Maurina

Area officials told an interim committee of the state legislature on Wednesday morning that any further delays in building the Ute Water Pipeline will hike costs by about $3 million per year.

Total capital and enhancement costs for the proposed Ute Water System are now estimated at 310.2 million, according to estimates presented to the New Mexico Water and Natural Resources Committee during the last of two water meetings at Clovis Community College. The Ute Water Pipeline Project would pipe water from Ute Lake in Logan to nine communities in eastern New Mexico.

Despite discouraging responses from national politicians earlier in the summer, Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority officials continue lobby for the project.
The project as proposed is 80 percent funded through the federal government, 10 percent through the state government and 10 percent through the communities involved. According to Ute Water Project Manager, Scott Verhines, part of the problem with the federal government was that traditionally the federal government does not fund many projects at that high percentage.

The Bureau of Reclamation position with regard to these projects is if there is a federal cost share greater than the 65-35 federal-local cost share, they oppose it,” said Verhines. Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, asked officials about contingency plans. “Do you guys have a back-up plan, 70-30, or some other way to make this work?” asked Moore.
A spokesman for the are officials Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr who is vice-chairman of the ENMRWA said there may be few options other than major federal funding for the project because a number of affected communities can’t raise sufficient funds to provide a substantial share of the costs. Project Manager Verhines agreed with Ortega.
“We are assuming our local match of 10 percent would be financed, but we have not been able to make the project affordable if much more of the project is financed,” said Verhines.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, asked what deadlines the project faces. Verhines said the project does not have much time left. “The entities involved have been paying a fee for years to reserve their rights to this water. If this water is not purchased by Dec. 31, 2006, the state can go ahead and sell it to someone else,” said Verhines. “That would be devastating to the communities that have been paying money for all these years to keep their rights in place, and it is why we are working so hard to get this project done on time.”