Water money pours into Tucumcari

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

Federal money for city water projects poured into Tucumcari. Specifically, a total of $940,200 was given in the form of grants and loans to fund a portion of the water lines that need replacing beneath the major construction zone still under construction.

“This is for the utility section of the First Street project,” said Tucumcari’s Community Development Director Doug Powers.

“The Highway Department put $11 to $12 million into the project and here we got a water system that should have been replaced years ago.”

Powers said the shopping list includes new waterlines, all new service lines and valves as well tie-ins – the T’s and crosses used to connect the First Street lines to the rest of the underground system.

“This is a pretty good deal for us,” he said, adding the Rural Utility Service, part of the United States Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development, went above and beyond to secure an extra $60,000 more than the city was initially being allotted.

The nearly $1 million was ceremoniously awarded in the form of a mock check to Mayor Mary Mayfield from Paul Gutierrez, state director for the USDA Rural Development, on Wednesday at City Hall.

Mayfield commented how some of Tucumcari’s construction projects seem to take a very long time, but that’s how long it takes to make sure the job get done correctly.

For example, she said, the First Street project could not be completed until money was secured for new waterlines, as it would make no sense to simply pave over old ones.

Powers added the First Street project will not only enhance the function of First Street and its water lines, but will produce an aesthetic and economic benefit.

“First Street and Route 66 are the main streets through town, the first thing people see when they come to Tucumcari,” Powers said. “It makes a lot of difference what they look like.”

Although the more than $900,000 in water money was a hefty sum, Tucumcari’s Water Department Superintendent Charlie Sandoval said it may not cover the entire First Street waterline revamping – and it wouldn’t be a sum anywhere near the cost of replacing all the elderly waterlines beneath the city.

“I’ve been here 24 years,” Sandoval said, “and I don’t know how old the oldest waterlines are. Nobody does. Everybody who knew is dead already.”

Sandoval did point out, however, he and his crew came across some really ancient waterlines down by the old railroad station, perhaps circa 1900, that were made out of wood.

The redwood pipes had a drilled-out hole in the middle and were wrapped in wire and once covered in tar to keep the water from seeping out. They were part of a water system not unlike those found in ancient Rome.

“They weren’t in service anymore when we found them,” he said. “But they worked when they were.”

Quick bio bit

Who: Paul Gutierrez, state director for the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development in New Mexico.
What that means: Handpicked by President George Bush on May 16 for the position, this means Gutierrez does a lot of important stuff.
Like what: Help Tucumcari get money for water projects. “We always put people before politics,” he said, adding he is helping with other water projects around the state concerning waste water and safe drinking water. “Some places in New Mexico still don’t have running water,” Gutierrez said, adding one of these places is just outside Albuquerque.
Background: Originally from Magdalena, a town about 25 miles west of Las Cruces where Gutierrez said the population is about 1,000, he grew up on a cow-calf ranch, was elected to the Magdalena Board of Education and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s in agricultural economics from New Mexico State University. He went on to champion civil rights for the USDA until his appointment as state director.
Thoughts on Tucumcari: Gutierrez, to a room full of Tucumcari city officials, said he loves the place. He said not only did he learn to water ski on nearby Conchas Lake but he often plays the nine-hole golf course when he’s in town. Gutierrez also said graduating from a class of 25 students in Magdalena gave him small town appreciation. “Rural New Mexico is very dear to my heart,” he said.

Quick tidbit

Who: The United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
What they do: Led by Gutierrez, they help Tucumcari get money for water projects. But that’s just one of the more than 40 projects Rural Development has in the works, according to Public Affairs Officer Ernie Watson. In 2004, he said the department amassed more than $77 million for rural New Mexico. He said some of their projects include bringing a water system to Lake Valley in the middle of the Navajo Nation, helping five families in Anthony obtain the homes of their dreams through the self-help program and bringing e-commerce to the technologically-challenged town of Tohatchi.
“We could build a whole town,” Watson said. “Our agency helps with housing, City Hall, a new fire station, schools, all of that.”