By Tony Parra
Tucumcari is out of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority’s pipeline project. Instead, city officials have opted to contract with Ute Lake Ranch, a housing development on the south side of the lake.
“The City Commission (is) going to lease 3,750 acre feet of water to Ute Lake Ranch,” Tucumcari City Manager Richard Primrose said. “In that contract, the city of Tucumcari will be able to use (the ranch’s) infrastructure to treat the remaining water the city has allocated. And then all the city has to do is pay for a pipeline between Ute Lake Ranch and the city.
“The commissioners feel they can use that infrastructure and get their water to Tucumcari more economically than staying in the … water authority.”
Tucumcari has access to 6,000 acre feet of water in its agreement with the Ute Lake Water Commission.
Primrose said the city has no immediate plans to build a pipeline and he had no estimates on potential costs.
With Tucumcari’s withdrawal from the regional pipeline project, and that of Quay County last month, just eight entities are now interested in building a pipeline from Ute Lake across eastern New Mexico to cities that include Portales and Clovis. San Jon and Logan dropped out of the project earlier, leaving Grady as the northern-most community still involved.
Officials have estimated the pipeline cost will be more than $300 million.
Despite the losses, Clovis Mayor Lansford and Ute Water Project Manager Scott Verhines remain optimistic. They emphasize the project hinges on federal funding. Verhines said the good news is that area entities are becoming clear on whether they are in or out of the project.
Knowing which communities want to participate in the project will help engineers prepare for the design of the pipeline.
The water authority plan calls for the federal government to fund 80 percent of costs and New Mexico and ENMRWA 10 percent each. This means Clovis would pay about $11.6 million and Portales $4.6 million if the plan goes through.
While ENMRWA officials have said it’s important for local entities to be united in hopes of securing funding for the project, Verhines said he’s confident the loss of the northern entities will not sideline hopes.
“We have actually asked those questions to our congressional delegation,” Verhines said. “We asked if they (federal lawmakers) are going to look at the project in a different way. They told us they still believed it’s needed even if entities dropped out. They will support the project because there is still a need for a regional water source for the area.”
Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico Editor David Stevens contributed to this report.