Ute water bill now up on Capitol Hill

By David Arkin: PNT Correspondent

Lawmakers in the nation’s capital on Wednesday got the ball rolling for a project that could be the answer to eastern New Mexico’s water needs.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., introduced the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Act of 2004 on Wednesday to Congress, which would allow the U.S Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $250 million to assist the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority in constructing a pipeline. The pipeline would carry water to several counties in the immediate area, including Curry, Roosevelt and Quay.
The water would come from the Ute Reservoir.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the introduction of the legislation is good news for the area.
“This has been long awaited,” he said. “This is a step in the process of developing this project. We are thankful that both of our senators have been working diligently to get this bill introduced.”
Next week, Lansford and Scott Verhines, project manager for the water authority, will testify for the project in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“We will be giving specifics about the project,” Lansford said. “We will talk about the need for the project.”
After the hearing, Lansford said lawmakers would then work on getting the legislation through the different committees and eventually on to the House and Senate floors and then to the president’s desk.
Money for the project would be split between federal, state and local funding. Local officials are asking 80 percent of the funding come from the feds, while the state and local governments would each carry 10 percent.
Lansford said the $250 million in federal funds wouldn’t all come in one lump sum, but rather be spread out over time.
“This is a 10-year project,” Lansford said.
Bingaman said the time was right to construct an eastern New Mexico pipeline.
“Much of eastern New Mexico is served by the Ogallala Aquifer, which is depleting faster than it’s recharging,” he said. “There are steps we can take to extend the life of the aquifer, and some of them are being taken. But to ensure eastern New Mexico’s water needs are met into the future, the time has come to construct the Ute pipeline.”
In addition to Bingaman’s legislation, Rep. Tom Udall introduced a “companion measure” in the House this week.
Udall said he thought the project would affect economic development in eastern New Mexico for many years.