Village of Logan files suit to halt Ute water project

The Village of Logan filed suit Tuesday against state, federal and local agencies calling for the halt of construction, funding and advancement of any portion of the proposed Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, more commonly known as the Ute Water Project.

Logan's suit against the defendants, including the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority and Bureau of Reclamation, cite the entities for violating federal policy in the planning of the Ute Lake Diversion Project.

"The Environmental Assessment conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation for the ENMWUA's intake structure at Ute Lake violates the National Environmental Policy Act," said Thomas Hnasko, lead council for the Village of Logan.

Hnasko, an attorney based in Santa Fe, filed the suit in the Federal District Court of New Mexico.

The Ute Reservoir is the water source for the project, which would pump water from the reservoir to ENMWUA entities in Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Hnasko said the environmental assessment performed by the bureau showed the effects on Ute Lake if the project's intake structure, or pumping station, pumped the 16,400 acre feet reserved by authority entities. However, he said, the structure will be capable of pumping 24,000 acre feet per year.

"We are asking that the assessment show the impact of the intake's maximum capacity," Hnasko said. "If a structure is capable of pumping 24,000 acre feet it stands to reason your assessment would include that impact data."

An acre foot is the amount of water that would fill a one-acre parcel of land with one foot of water, and is roughly equivalent to 325,853 gallons.

Hnasko said the second problem is that the environmental assessment was based off of 1994 precipitation and water runoff totals into Ute Lake.

"We all know those numbers are wrong, and we're nowhere near those precipitation levels today," Hnasko said. "Based on the bad data they would breach the minimum pool level many times over 45 years."

Hnasko said based on that data, the environmental assessment issued a finding of no significant impact to the village. Using updated data, Hnasko said, he doubts that would be the case.

"The goal of this injunction is to have another assessment conducted using current and correct data," Hnasko said. "This (environmental impact) statement would force them to consider all of the alternatives, including the current proposed project."

Hnasko said there is no sure answer to what a new environmental impact statement would show once it is conducted.

"We simply want their data to be accurate and for them to consider all of the alternatives," Hnasko said.

Attempts to contact Authority Chair Gayla Brumfield were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas and Clovis City Commissioner Chris Bryant each offered minimal response, noting they had not gone through the lawsuit as of Tuesday evening.

"I haven't gone through it in detail, but I have seen it," Thomas said. "I think it's one of those things that has to make its way through the court."

Bryant said he planned to spend Tuesday night reading about the suit. When notified of the details, he said, "That's what (Quay County representatives have) been bringing to the (authority) meetings. I'm not surprised that they're doing this."

During previous ENMWUA meetings, Quay County officials have asked the authority to set a minimum reservoir water elevation level of 3,765 feet, with pumping reduction when the elevation nears that mark.

The commission has not officially agreed to the request.

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