Local leaders in Washington to pitch Ute Project

By Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

Representatives of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority traveled to Washington, D.C., Wednesday to lay groundwork for the expedition of the Ute Water Project.

Years in the planning, the project would pump water for residential use from Ute Reservoir, near Logan, to eastern New Mexico communities via a pipe nearly 90 miles long.

Scheduled today are meetings with U.S. Reps. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Heather Wilson, R.-N.M., and the Bureau of Reclamation, an oversight board for water-related projects in the western U.S., according to Clovis Mayor David Lansford, chairman of the water authority.

Those parties will be updated on the progress of the project, Lansford said.
“The primary objective is to make sure we are in a position to get the Ute Water project authorized by Congress,” Lansford said via telephone Wednesday.

As early as August, a bill for funding of the Ute Water Project could be introduced by U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R.-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D.-N.M., according to Lansford.

The water authority hopes to receive 75 percent of the project’s funding through federal appropriations. The remainder of the money needed to launch the sprawling water pipe would be sought from the state, according to Ute Water Project engineer Clay Koontz.

But it could take more than 10 years to see the project to fruition as funding could be allotted in phases. Roughly $300 million is needed for its completion, officials said. In the meantime, the cost estimate keeps rising.

“The longer we wait to begin the project in earnest, the more those costs are going to escalate. It is imperative we utilize the fresh data that we have,” Lansford said.

According to Koontz, “There is communitywide, regional support for this project because of the condition of the Ogallala Aquifer. Studies have shown the water level could be hard to withdraw from as soon as 50 years.”

The Ute Reservoir was carved out in the 1960s to squash water woes, according to water authority officials. The reservoir is fed by the Canadian River, which rises in Colorado and flows into New Mexico. The Canadian River is the largest tributary of the Arkansas River.

Udall said in an e-mail he is looking forward to continuing discussions addressing “the urgent water needs in this region of the state.”

Rep. Wilson could not be reached Wednesday for comment.