House committee considers Ute water legislation

By Gabriel Monte, Freedom New Mexico

Rep. Tom Udall said while he remains positive Congress will pass a bill authorizing the Ute Water Project, he has concerns the president might veto it.

The bill would authorize federal funding for a $476 million water project proposing to bring water from Ute Lake reservoir to communities in eastern New Mexico.

In his testimony during Thursday’s Natural Resources Subcommittee on Power and Water hearing, Federal Bureau of Reclamation Director of Operations Robert Quint said the bureau could not support the project because of the cost of the federal government’s share. The legislation would authorize the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million over a 10-year period.

“(The Bush administration) has been opposed to this all along,” said Udall, D-N.M., who introduced the bill in the House. “I think when we get a new administration, we’ll be in a lot better shape if we can’t convince this administration to sign on to this.”

The remaining cost of the project would be shared between the state, at 15 percent, and the local communities at 10 percent.

The subcommittee also heard testimony on the need for the project Thursday from Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority Chairman and former Clovis Mayor David Lansford.

Lansford said the project’s cost is the reason the authority is asking for federal assistance.

“This is a fundamental responsibility of the government, that’s why we’re asking the state, the federal government to participate not for the ongoing operations and maintenance expenses, but for the capital,” he said.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, who attended the meeting, was happy with the progress to date, noting this was the furthest the project had reached at the federal level.

The water will come from the Ute Reservoir, which was built on the Canadian River in 1959 as a sustainable water supply for eastern New Mexico.

A few years after the reservoir was constructed, Congress authorized the study of a pipeline that would transport the water to eastern New Mexico communities in need of it. But it was only in the past few years, with an increasing concern about declining and degrading groundwater resources in the area, that the affected New Mexico communities began planning for the pipeline.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved identical legislation on Wednesday.