Senators to hold Ute Water field hearing in Clovis

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

Clovis Mayor David Lansford calls the Ute Water Project the largest, and most important, operation eastern New Mexico has undertaken.
The next three days could be the most important in the project’s more-than-40-year lifespan.

“I think that is a good characterization of the position we’re at at this point in time,” Lansford said Saturday, less than 72 hours before Tuesday’s 9:30 a.m. field hearing about the project with Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

The hearing will be preceded by an informational meeting Monday, with an open house at 6 p.m. and presentation at 7 p.m. It will be followed by Wednesday’s 3 p.m. Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority meeting. All events will be at the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

The focus, Lansford said, is to update senators about local and state efforts toward the project, which would involve constructing a pipeline to move reserved water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the authority’s eight entities: six cities, plus Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Bingaman is the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, while Domenici is the senior member. No other committee members will be at the hearing.

Jude McCartin, a spokesperson for Bingaman, said field hearings tend to attract only senators from the hearing’s home state, but they are often the first step toward authorizing projects. The information gathered will be on the record for other committee members to review before introduction of a bill to authorize the project.

“Having the chairman and ranking member (for your field hearing) is about as good as it gets,” McCartin said.

A bill to authorize the Ute Water Project was introduced late in 2006, but didn’t get far in the final months of the 109th Congress. McCartin said the goal is to get another bill for the project introduced, possibly by early 2008.

Local testimony will come from Lansford, the authority’s chairman, and Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, vice chairman. Lansford said representatives from other organizations to testify include those from the Bureau of Reclamation, Ute Water Commission and Interstate Streams Commission.

Hannah VanderBush, a Domenici spokeswoman, said the testimony from the BOR would help determine feasibility of the Ute Water Project.

Federal authorization is the biggest hurdle for the authority, which is planning the $432 million project with a funding level of 75 percent federal, 15 percent state and 10 percent local. Authorization is necessary before federal funds can come.

“We’ve been able to make significant progress over the last several years,” Lansford said, “but the giant step forward comes when we get this project authorized at the federal level.”

Lansford hopes Monday night will reflect three points: the need for a sustainable water source, the need for public support and evidence the project is the most feasible solution.

“All the alternatives that have been imagined have been evaluated,” Lansford said. “We’ve studied this thing for over 40 years. The same conclusion keeps coming up.”

Wednesday’s meeting will allow the authority to build a roadmap for the next six to seven months. He hopes to have good results to carry into Wednesday, but he believes there’s some degree of success by even having the hearing.

“That will be something other members of Congress can review,” Lansford said, “and act in our favor on.”

Lansford said delaying the project any further would be detrimental to the region’s socioeconomic future, since it would probably take at least a decade to complete construction.