City given $1 million water funding

Mike Linn

Gov. Bill Richardson came to town Wednesday morning and announced he’s allocating $1 million to help fund the conversion of agriculture water wells to wells used to pump water to Portales homes.
Conversion of the city’s 17 agriculture wells will dramatically reduce strain on wells used to provide water for city residents. Those wells have continually pumped less water per minute over time, state and city officials said.
“These wells are needed, and we can immediately deploy the money for the city of Portales,” Richardson said following a press conference at city hall. “Water is our top challenge and we are going to concentrate very heavily on water issues.”
The city of Portales purchased the 17 agriculture wells to have water reserves for the future, and it will take roughly $1.6 million to regulate the wells for residential use and build water-routing pipelines, said Tom Howell, the city’s public works director.
“Originally I’d planned on having the money to tie in five wells sometime next year, but if we now have this money available we can get them tied in a lot quicker,” Howell said.
“We have plenty of water but we like to keep reserves in case there is a fire or something. This money will help us in that manner.”
Howell said his department will send a design to bring five agriculture pumps up to state code for residential use.
Once the state approves the design, Howell said his department will likely start working on the project within 60 to 90 days.
Richardson said drought conditions in the area have crippled water supplies. To remedy any ill effects, the governor has allocated $10.5 million for southeastern and southern New Mexico in an effort to guarantee safe, reliable supplies of water now and into the future, according to a press release from Richardson’s office.
“There is a true sense of urgency to these efforts,” Richardson said. “The severe drought has created a water crisis in New Mexico. We must relentlessly attack our water problems now to ensure the well being of our citizens and our continued economic growth in the future.”
The $10.5 million being distributed is part of $169 million allocated for New Mexico from a $20 billion state stimulus package obtained by governors during negotiations over the federal tax cuts passed by Congress earlier this year.
Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks said the governor played an important role in those negotiations as the Democratic Governors Association federal government liaison and a member of the Medicaid task force of the National Governors Association.
In the last two weeks, Richardson has taken criticism from several state legislators, who say he lacks the authority to distribute the money without the approval of the Legislature.
Richardson said he feels sure of his right to distribute the money as unanticipated federal funds for emergency use. He said the New Mexico Supreme Court has confirmed the governor’s right to distribute such funds.
Freedom Newspapers reporter Jack King contributed to this report.