Governor signs water authority bill

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Gov. Bill Richardson cleared the way for the next step in the Ute Water Project, signing new legislation Saturday in Clovis.

House Bill 15, signed into law in a ceremony at the Clovis-Carver Public Library, changes the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority into a utility authority.

The authority has operated as a joint powers agreement and will continue doing so until the bill takes effect July 1.

Richardson said authority status adds bonding ability, establishes jurisdiction and grants greater stature when lobbying.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, made its way to Richardson with unanimous passage in the House and Senate and the subcommittees for each.

“That doesn’t happen,” said Clovis Mayor and Authority Chair Gayla Brumfield, “unless you have the kind of support you have from the state level and the community.”

The authority is responsible for the Ute Water Project, a $432 million pipeline that would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the authority’s member entities.

The federal government will pay 75 percent of the cost, with 15 percent provided by the state and 10 percent by local entities.

Crook said it was a “delight” to carry the legislation with the support of the community and State Engineer John D’Antonio.

“You don’t sign very much of my legislation,” Crook joked to Richardson, a Democrat who is term-limited after eight years in the office.

“You have to have this,” Richardson said. “It’s crucial to the economic development. The Ogallala Aquifer can’t meet the demand for the future.”

D’Antonio said there were plenty of people to thank for the project’s progress to this date, including former Clovis Mayor David Lansford and outgoing Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega.

“At any point,” D’Antonio said, “anything can hold things up … so this was a good team effort.”