QCS Senior Writer
The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority remains resolute in its plans to complete the intake structure at Ute Lake despite a projected water shortage before the project’s completion, pending litigation with the Village of Logan and continued loss of Ute Lake water due to evaporation and lack of inflow into the reservoir.
“Stopping the construction of the intake structure at Ute Lake is not an option,” said Gayla Brumfield, authority chair. It is not feasible to stop the construction now, she said, and the authority is under contract to complete the project in the next year.
The authority’s commitment to complete the $20 million first phase remains strong despite reports that indicate depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer — the authority’s main water source — in 10 years.
The water authority’s system of Ute Lake intakes and pipelines that will transfer the water to Curry and Roosevelt counties won’t be completed for 20 years.
The projection on depletion of the aquifer came from the water authority’s own project manager, Paul Van Gulick, in a presentation last Thursday to the New Mexico Legislature’s Water and Natural Resources Committee.
Van Gulick said the Ogallala Aquifer’s 40 feet of thickness is depleting at a rate of up to 4-to-5.8 feet per year in some places. He said there is a need for an interim fix to cover the time between the aquifer’s depletion and water project’s completion in 20 years.
Another report submitted to the authority shows that in 2000 there were 28 wells in Clovis producing more than 10,000 gallons of water per minute. In 2012, 64 wells were producing only about 7,000 gallons per minute.
Brumfield said the authority is in the process of designing the interim fix, which has been referred to as Phase 2 of the Ute Water project. This is an $88-million pipeline that will carry water purchased from private landowners from northern Curry County, near Cannon Air Force Base, to Portales and Elida.
Gulick said when the Phase 2 pipeline is operation, private landowners will be able to sell well water to the authority’s member communities, but there is no way of estimating how much landowners might charge for that water.
“We want people to know the cost of this interim pipeline is not an additional cost to the project,” Gulick said. “Negotiations would also have to be done with private landowners to determine water cost.”
The Ute Water Project’s total estimated cost is more than $550 million, with 75 percent expected from federal funding. Once completed, the project is expected to pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to Clovis, Portales, Elida, Texico, Grady, Melrose, and other areas of Curry and Roosevelt counties.
While the project’s sole-source engineering firm CH2M Hill continues construction on Phase 1 and design of Phase 2, the U.S 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo., has given the Village of Logan an extension to file arguments and main points in its request for an injunction that would halt water project construction.
Brumfield said discussion of this pending litigation was the subject of discussion during an executive session July 24, but no action was taken.
Thomas Hnasko, lead counsel for the Village of Logan, said the village has been talking about settlement parameters with the authority even though the case is pending in the court of appeals.
Hnasko said the village’s request for injunction alleges the authority violated the National Environmental Protection Act by not completing an Environmental Impact Study.
Hnasko said the authority submitted only an Environmental Assessment that does not analyze the full impact should the intake structure pump out the entire 24,000 acre feet of water it is capable of removing from the lake. He said regulations from the Bureau of Reclamation also require an EIS for any major water project in the state.
Brumfield said the authority did not complete an EIS because the Bureau of Reclamation’s Environmental Assessment, which addressed the areas of greatest public concern, concluded with a finding of no significant impact.
The Village of Logan argued the environmental assessment also failed to address the effects of sedimentation levels or fisheries pools on the lake’s depletion rate.
In presentations to the Water and Natural Resources Committee and earlier this month to U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, Tucumcari City Commissioner Robert Lumpkin said while the pipeline would give Quay County an economic boost, the water authority has shown an unwillingness to set a minimum pool level for Ute Lake. In addition, he said, Quay interests have had little input into the project’s drought management plan.
Lumpkin said if the current drought conditions continue, Ute Lake may not be a sustainable option for the authority, due to water loss from evaporation and lack of inflow. He said it might be better for the authority to move forward with the interim pipeline or possibly treat and use brackish water in the Santa Rosa aquifer that lies beneath the Ogallala Aquifer and extends along much of eastern New Mexico and west Texas.
EPCOR Water, which serves the Clovis area, spent about $1 million and drilled 1,660 feet to reach the Santa Rosa aquifer in order to test the brackish water in 2010, said Brian Daly, EPCOR district manager. He said the quality and the quantity of the brackish water were poor. He added that bringing the brackish water to surface and treating it would be expensive for customers. He said treating the brackish water would also create a stream of wastewater that would need to be disposed of.