The Ute water pipeline project, some insist, is needed to sustain life across eastern New Mexico for our children and grandchildren into the next century.
Opponents claim it’s too expensive and won’t help anyway when the Ogallala aquifer is depleted in the next decade or three as experts predict.
It seems there’s not a lot of middle ground on the topic these days, but we need to find some.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford started the fireworks again this month when he said a new study is needed to determine whether Quay County’s Ute Reservoir is even capable of providing meaningful water to Curry and Roosevelt counties via a pipeline estimated to cost upward of $500 million. That’s ironic because he has been the project’s most vocal supporter for nearly 20 years.
Former Mayor Gayla Brumfield and others received credit for lining up funding that allowed the project to break ground last year. Before that, though, Lansford blazed the trail with thousands of hours convincing local, state and federal officials the pipeline was essential to our future.
Lansford says circumstances surrounding the project have changed in recent years, especially statewide drought conditions that have lowered lake levels. He said he still supports the pipeline, but wants one more study to be sure it is viable.
Brumfield, chairwoman of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority charged with building the pipeline, says Lansford’s about face is a political slap to her face. His study request, spurred, she believes, by their ugly mayoral race in 2012, would only cost taxpayers more money — estimates range from $50,000 to $300,000 — and the findings would not differ from multiple earlier studies. Worse, delaying further action while awaiting the results could give Congress an excuse to delay funding to a project that’s been in the works for six decades already, and will take at least 20 more years to complete.
Meanwhile, many Quay County residents are trying to ensure Ute Lake remains a recreational oasis. They are concerned the proposed pipeline will drain the lake, driving away the tourists that fuel their livelihoods. They don’t accept the findings of many studies done since the baseline Whipple Study in 1993.
Here’s what we think:
• Taxpayers have spent $30 million in the last decade alone on the Ute water project. Stopping now to study it again is irresponsible.
Two agencies, the Interstate Stream Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation, have accepted the studies’ findings that the pipeline project is valid and that Ute Lake will be sustained. This project has been studied enough, independently, using data that goes back 1,000 years. Our government leaders have used that research to secure the blessing of those we’ve entrusted to distribute our money back to us at state, federal and local government levels.
Build it already.
• Ute Lake is not just important to Quay County. It’s for all of eastern New Mexico to enjoy; one of those “quality of life” amenities that appeals to natives and those who are thinking about moving in.
All communities must respect and honor its multiple uses. That means agreeing to the volume that can be pumped so everyone benefits.
Figure it out.
• Finally, the pipeline must be part of a water umbrella effort for the region. It may supplement the domestic water needs in Curry and Roosevelt counties, but it won’t sustain us by itself under the best of circumstances.
We need our government leaders seriously exploring all water options. Anything they can do to encourage private companies to participate in the problem solving is also welcome.
Brumfield and Lansford agree we should be working with agriculture interests to find solutions that benefit everyone.
And water fields below the aquifer offer untold riches if we can find cost-efficient ways to remove salt content.
We’re convinced we won’t have a Clovis, Portales or Tucumcari for much longer if we don’t figure out how to share our resources.
Our elected officials need to stop fighting and start solving the water problem.