Ute pipeline bill moves forward in Washington

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

Legislation authorizing the Ute Water Project cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act, can now be considered by the full Senate, according to a release from U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the committee’s chair.

The would authorize the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million to assist the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority to construct a pipeline from the Ute Reservoir to the authority’s eight members.

The remaining 25 percent of the cost would fall to the state (15 percent) and the authority members (10).

“We feel really good about it,” said Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, who is in Washington, D.C., with Portales Mayor and Authority Vice Chair Orlando Ortega. “We had personal meetings with our different congressmen and senators. They are very engaged and very excited to move this project forward.”

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he would like to see the bill pass the Senate.

“We still have a long row to hoe with this project, but I like seeing progress on this bill. We need it to see that eastern New Mexico can access water to support growth in the region,” Domenici said.

Ortega said there is more work to be done.

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced the same measure in the House of Representatives, and local testimony with the House Subcommittee on Water and Power is set for 10 a.m. (EDT) today.

“We still have the hurdle on the House of Representatives, so we have to go through that same process,” said Ortega, who delivered testimony to the Senate’s Water and Power Subcommittee last month.

The Bush administration has not supported the project, citing costs, and last November vetoed a large water projects bill before Congress overrode the veto.

“After years of developing this legislation and building congressional support for it, I am very pleased it has cleared its first hurdle,” Bingaman said. “While I remain concerned about the lack of Bush administration support for this bill, today’s vote gives me confidence that we can get it enacted into law.”