Public meetings planned to clarify Ute Water Project

By Tony Parra

Experts in the Ute Water Pipeline project want to paint a clearer picture for eastern New Mexico residents so they can understand the need, costs and benefits of the proposed pipeline. They plan to do this with public meetings.

The first of four meetings will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Memorial Building in Portales.

The $300 million Ute Water Project would supply water from Ute Lake to communities in eastern New Mexico for municipal and industrial purposes.

“The focus is on the technical information and the concept of the project,” said Clovis Mayor David Lansford, who is also the chairman of the ENMRWA. “The goal is to define the need and that inaction on our part will create hardship for future generations.”

The public involvement meeting will be scheduled into three segments that will be similar at all four meetings. The first segment is an open house from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in which people can go around the room and view charts and graphs about the Ute Water Project.

The second segment is a 30-minute segment during which panelists will discuss their involvement in the Ute Water Project. The panelists for the Portales meeting are: John D’Antonio, New Mexico state engineer; Esteban Lopez, director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission; Charles Wilson, a geohydrologist; Jimmie Shearer, Sunland Inc. president; Walter Hines, CH2M Hill senior engineer; and Scott Verhines, Ute Water Project manager. A local business leader, such as Shearer, will be included in each community panel.

A question and answer segment will follow.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said ENMRWA is asking the federal government to pay for 80 percent of the $300 million while the state would pay 10 percent and the ENMRWA members would pay 10 percent.

“That aspect (federal funding) will be discussed,” Ortega said. Ortega said it’s tough to get 80 percent federal funding and the ENMRWA members may have to make 75 percent their goal with the state and ENMRWA members paying for the other 25 percent. “We are drafting another bill to the 109th Congress. The 75 percent is a doable thing. Time is of the essence. We would like to get it funded as soon as possible.”

Ortega said completion of the project would take eight to 10 years. Lansford said U.S. Congress members want to see that communities support the water project local governments have chosen.

Verhines said CH2M Hill, an engineering group based in Albuquerque, has created six alternatives that would accomplish the basic goal of the project. Verhines said there are four alternatives which would pump water from Ute Lake with different designs.

Another alternative would be to not pump water from Ute Lake and build more wells and rely on the aquifer water. The sixth alternative would be to use the brackish water located in an underground aquifer, below the Ogallala Aquifer in eastern New Mexico. It could be treated and distributed.

The eight entities involved in the Ute Water Pipeline Project are Texico, Portales, Elida, Clovis, Grady, Melrose, Curry and Roosevelt Counties.