Final lawsuit cleared, clearing way for first phase of Ute construction

A federal court cleared the way Monday for construction to start on the first of the Ute Water Project.

File photo

Members of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority originally broke ground on phase I of the Ute Water Project in August.

A U.S. District Court judge in Albuquerque denied the Village of Logan's request for an injunction preventing construction.

The court ruled the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority complied with environmental laws, according to court documents.

"This is really good news for the authority and it is critical for our dire water situation," said Authority Chairperson Gayla Brumfield.

Brumfield said the authority wants to continue to work with the city of Tucumcari and Village of Logan to move forward with a balanced approach. She said with the ruling allows construction on phase I of the project — an intake structure at Ute Lake Reservoir — to begin immediately.

The project would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the member entities of Clovis, Portales, Elida, Texico, Grady, Melrose and Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Brumfield said the Village of Logan filed for the injunction on July 6, which was heard in August, alleging the authority had violated the National Environmental Protection Act by not completing a Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

The injunction requested that no construction be started on the project until an EIS was completed.

The filing halted the project, which was shovel ready to begin Phase 1, Brumfield said.

Brumfield said the authority did not complete an EIS because the Bureau of Reclamation's Environmental Assessment prepared on the areas of greatest public concern concluded with a Finding of No Significant Impact.

The Village of Logan argued the EA did not address sedimentation levels depleting the reservoir volume or fisheries pools. They also argued building an intake structure would violate the Shoreline Management Plan and local zoning ordinances

The judgment states the communities of Eastern New Mexico rely entirely for their water supply from the Ogalalla aquifer, and have historically placed a greater demand than what can be replaced by the aquifer's recharge rate. This has resulted in declining levels throughout the aquifer.

The judge also noted increased concentrations of chemicals such as arsenic, fluoride and radon have resulted with the depletion of the acquifer, making it difficult for communities to comply with federal drinking water requirements.

The court noted the Village of Logan's residents also have an important interest in continued recreation at the reservoir.

However, the ruling said, that interest must defer to the need for potable drinking water and for support of municipal and irrigation purposes.

This is the final suit filed by the Village of Logan and the second in less than a week to fall in the favor of the authority.

On Thursday, Thomas Hnasko an Albuquerque based attorney, dropped a state court suit filed by the South Shore Home Owners Association, alleging the authority violated a 1996 covenant that required lots to be used only for single-family residences and connected guest homes.

Hnasko said after reviewing the case, the authority could violate the covenant because they had eminent domain, though they have to pay the landowners compensation for the violation.

Village of Logan Manager Larry Wallin could not immediately be reached for comment.

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