MELROSE — The first phase of the Ute water pipeline is expected to begin in mid-July despite a federal lawsuit and two civil lawsuits seeking to halt the project.
The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority approved a recommendation Tuesday to begin construction on the pipeline that would carry water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority members in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
Authority Chairwoman Gayla Brumfield said Tuesday the water authority has hired a Santa Fe attorney to handle lawsuits and construction will move forward.
Phase 1 is the construction of an intake structure on the south side of the Ute reservoir. It will involve the construction of an underwater shelf and an underwater tunnel, installing pipes and pouring concrete.
No pumps will be installed, no withdrawals of water will be made and no transmission lines will be constructed in this phase. The cost of phase I is around $14 million; the cost of the entire project is $500 million.
Phase I construction should be complete by summer 2014, according to project manager Paul van Gulick.
"This project has 50 years of planning so there's been a lot of studying done to get us up to the point and we're finally up to the point of construction," said Clay Koontz, project engineer from Occam Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Quay County officials worry diverting water from Ute Lake would affect what has become a valuable and lucrative recreation resource.
The Village of Logan and a local landowners association requested an injunction earlier this month seeking the halt of current and future construction of the intake structure based on zoning laws.
The Village of Logan also filed suit April 17 against the water authority and Bureau of Reclamation, citing the entities for violating federal policy in the planning of the Ute Lake Diversion Project.
In Tuesday's meeting in Melrose, Gulick said while the phase I construction is in motion, the board will design phase II and subsequent phases. He said the large size of the project prevents his company from completing an entire phase of design and construction based on the funding for one year,
"Based on the our expectations for the funding stream (federal and state) we have to try to identify portions of the project to be built with money we expect to be getting," Gulick said.
Gulick said the project is one of seven federally authorized projects in the nation. Its funding separates it from other water projects in the state; water authority member contributions are 10 percent, the state share is 15 percent and the federal share is 75 percent of the project's total cost.
According to Gulick, putting together an individual phase of construction for this project requires a certain amount of money that meets local, state and federal cost shares. Gulick said these costshares are in line for project.
"Over all these years there's been questions about funding and whether or not the overall aquifer was actually in trouble or not," Gulick said. "That was going on until finally everybody is pulling together and this project is moving forward."