Ute water meeting set up to see who’s in, who’s out

By Tony Parra

Scott Verhines, program manager of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, said the goal of holding workshops in Roosevelt, Curry and Quay counties is to see who is willing to commit to the Ute Water Project and he said he received a good feeling from Portales city officials on Wednesday.
Verhines and Kevin Powers, Vice President of the Municipal Fixed Income Division of Public Finance, both of Albuquerque, met with Mayor Orlando Ortega, city manager Debi Lee and Portales council members to discuss if the project is viable, financially speaking.
“The mayor and city manager have been moving along and we’ve been trying to catch up to them,” Verhines said. “And rightfully so. They’ve been a dynamic crew. Gary Watkins (Portales city councilor) has been one of the best attendees of the (ENMRWS) meetings.”
Verhines said time is running out on trying to get entities involved in the project. He said he wants to be able to figure out who is committed to the project and who is not so he can begin working with consultants. The members of the ENMRWS are Clovis/Cannon Air Force Base, Curry County, Elida, Grady, Logan, Melrose, Portales, Quay County, Roosevelt County, San Juan, Texico and Tucumcari.
Verhines said the workshops have brought about different priorities for the county.
“Our goal in the three-county workshops is to make a decision (of) whether you’re in or you’re out,” Verhines said. “We presented a financial analysis and Tucumcari and Quay officials said they could not afford it. They said, ‘We can’t afford it the way it is set up.’”
Verhines said each community has different demands, needs and access to the Ute Water which community representatives have told him.
“Portales is different from other communities (Clovis and Tucumcari),” Verhines said. “You are currently under-reserved. Your demand today is higher than what you have in reservation. Everyone else is opposite. Their reservation is greater than their demand. Tucumcari and Quay are over-reserved. They have four or five times more water than they reserve.”
The total cost of the Ute Water Project is $296,619,200 according to a report from ENMRWS. If the federal government agrees to pay 80 percent of the cost ($237,295,360) and the state pays 10 percent (29,661,920) the local governments will have to pay 10 percent (29,661,920). Clovis would have to pay $127,135,400 and Cannon Air Force Base would have to contribute $27,015,300. Other Curry County communities would have to pay: Grady $1,236,400; Melrose $7,151,800; Texico $5,935,000.
The Roosevelt County communities would each have to contribute millions of dollars, also: Portales $49,419,500; Elida $7,523,600 and Roosevelt County $1,789,500.
“Our reserves are lower than our demand,” Robert De Los Santos, city councilor, said. “We’re going to need to do something to adjust to that.”
Another important part of the project is the financial commitment from the federal government. According to the Ute Water Project, 80 percent of the funding will need to come from the federal government, 10 percent from the state government and 10 percent from local governments.
Ortega and city councilors also agreed to make changes to a memorandum of understanding between the city of Portales and Roosevelt County for the city to receive the county’s 100 acres of feet of water per year from the project so the city will pay costs associated with maintaining the water.
Ron Jackson, city councilor, asked if the city obtains the 100 acres of feet of water, why would Roosevelt County have a representative in the ENMRWS. Currently, David Sanders is the representative from the county.
“David Sanders has been very supportive and involved in the project,” Ortega said. “He’s been helping us from the beginning. He helped in convincing the county to hand the water to us instead of selling it to us.”
Verhines said the reason why the ENMRWS would be better suited to have Roosevelt County as an entity in the ENMRWS is for political reasons. Verhines said the project does not look good to represent to Congress if Roosevelt County drops out. He said there’s a possibility San Jon and Elida may drop out also.
Mike Miller, city councilor, suggested the language in the memorandum be changed to say the county can appoint a representative, but the city would have to approve it. Councilors agreed they would like to obtain the acres of water under the changes.
City officials along with Powers and Verhines did not set up a time for another meeting.