By Tova Fruchtman: Quay County Sun
The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority heard concerns Wednesday about the possibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declaring the Canadian River a critical habitat for the Arkansas River shiner.
Doug Murray of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission said the Arkansas River shiner critical habitat designation may put requirements on the state to release water from Ute Lake reserved for a proposed pipeline project into the river.
However, Murray said this outcome is preventable and said he and the ISC are working with the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority to help protect the ENMRA’s water.
“The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission will do everything it can to protect New Mexico water sources,” he said.
ENMRWA wants to pipe water from Ute Lake to at least 10 communities in eastern New Mexico, including Clovis and Portales.
The Canadian River water authority is proposing a comprehensive plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to prevent the critical habitat designation for the shiner, a silver colored minnow which reaches a maximum length of 2 inches.
But Murray had concerns that plan may effect Ute Lake.
He told ENMRWA that at a meeting Monday in Albuquerque, state stream commissioners came to a “conceptual” agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the CRMWA. The stream commission agreed to support a revised management plan, Murray said.
One major issue was changing the language in the plan to maintaining the “existing” base flow in the river rather than the “historic,” implying as it was before the lake was dammed.
“This has always been our concern … depending on conditions of critical habitat may effect availability of all water available to eastern New Mexico,” Murray said.
John Williams of the CRMWA said he doesn’t think his group’s plan will affect the water in Ute Lake, or the water being reserved by members of the authority.
Elizabeth Slown, spokesperson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, said the quantity of water is not an issue in New Mexico, so there shouldn’t be any concern about taking water from the rural water authority.
She said if more water was needed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service would purchase it.
Murray said this isn’t the only problem the ISC is anticipating related to the project.
“A project this large, there’s going to be challenges,” said Murray, giving an example of the possibility of archeological sites being found during the building of the pipeline causing the design to change.”
Other issues discussed at the meeting included:
• Legislators Sen. Clint Harden and Rep. Anna Crooke gave presentations to the authority about the legislative session and why more money was not allocated to the Ute Water Project. They pointed to lack of funds and many important projects, that caused their Ute Water Bills to be stopped in committee.
• The money from the New Mexico Water Trust board for the The Ute Water Project was affected by the legislative session, according to Harden, Crooke and Project Manager Scott Verhines. During the session, a bill was passed allocating 10 percent of the $17.7 million the board has to allocate, for adjudication on water rights. Before the $17.7 million allocation for the Water Trust Board passed the senate nine more projects were added as amendments for the board to consider. It is unclear how the authority will deal with these changes and how it will effect the money allocated to the ENMRWA.
“There is sill a question as to what the board will do, as an outcome of the legislative activities,” Verhines said.
The next meeting of the New Mexico Water Trust Board will be on May 4 in Santa Fe.
“Everybody’s sort of waiting to see what happens next,” he said. The ENMRWA could get $2 million dollars, depending on how the allocations are impacted by the 9 other projects and the 10 percent adjudication allotment.
• Verhines, Clovis Mayor David Lansford and Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, the chairman and vice-chairman of ENMRWA respectively, will be going to Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. Senators Pete Dominicci and Jeff Bingaman and U.S. Rep. Tom Udall to make a request for about $6 million in appropriations, on money Verhines said the authority would spent for planning over the next three years.
Miguel Rocha, from the Bureau of Reclamations suggested later in the meeting that the board reexamine this plan and request only as much money as can be spent in a year. He said allocations are considered more successful this way, and precise plans of how the money will be used are important for getting the federal money.
• Elida is still considering whether to join the project, Verhines said. He made a 45-minute presentation to the city council on where the water project is. Verhines offered to give any commission or council the same presentation, which he said was very successful.
• Paul Cassidy, a financial advisor to the board, reported that with a few exceptions most entities involved in the Ute Lake Project are financially prepared to meet their share of the project. He said though the exceptions may be able to afford the project, it will be challenging.
“We’re very close to have everyone in a position to cover the costs,” Verhines said.
• Tucumcari City Manager Richard Primrose asked Verhines if there had been any change in the payment plan for the water reservation — as he had requested on behalf of the Quay Working Group last year. Verhines said before looking into changing the payment plan he needs information on what each entity wants.
•There was a discussion about starting a Public Outreach Committee to educate the public about the Ute Lake Project. Verhines said this project should get running in the next 30 days and suggested hiring someone to be in charge of public outreach. He suggested a budget, to be presented at the next meeting, include this position.
• Doug Murray of Interstate Stream Commission suggested the Authority continue with the project regardless of not getting money in the capital outlay from the state ( other than what will come for the New Mexico Water Trust Board). “Let’s bite off every piece we can,” Murray said. “Next years another year.”
• The board went into executive session and after renewed Verhines contract a s the Program Management Consultant, at the approval of the New Mexico Stat Finance Authority for about $330,000.
• Kent Terry, tender of the Ute Lake damn, reported that the lake is about 7 feet bellow the spill way at the lake. He said just a little bit more water will put it over.
• Miguel Rocha, of the Bureau of Reclamations, said that a report from the Authority about what had been done with the money received is past due. He said funding would be withheld until the report is received. Verhines said that it was is responsibility to complete the report and apologized for not doing so.
“It’s on my radar screen to get it completed as quickly as he can,” he said.
• The next meeting will be at 10 a.m. May 18 in Logan.