Authorization for Ute Water Project passes Senate

Freedom New Mexico

The Ute Water Project is halfway to Barack Obama’s desk.

By a 73-21 vote, Senate Bill 22 passed Thursday afternoon, and similar legislation will head to the House of Representatives.

The bill is expected to be in the House for a week or two before it lands on the desk of the president-elect.

More commonly referred to as the Bingaman lands bill, Senate Bill 22
includes authorization for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority
and about 160 others.

Bingaman, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee, said he has not discussed the Ute Water Project or any other
part of the omnibus package with Obama, but, “The soon-to-be secretary
of the interior, (Colo. Sen.) Ken Salazar … who has the office right
next to me, we’ve talked about some of these projects,” Bingaman said.
“He’s aware of them, and I’m confident we could get support from the
administration.”

The bill allows the Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million to assist the authority to build the pipeline project.

Bingaman said the earliest appropriations could come in the budget
cycle for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. He doesn’t
know when construction can start, but is optimistic.

“I think this project is further along, as far as design and
engineering work, than a lot of people realize,” Bingaman said. “We’re
to a point in the project where the lion’s share of anything done will
relate to construction.”

Separate legislation would be required for financial appropriations, but some funds could come from Obama’s stimulus plan.

“It depends on how shovel-ready these projects are,” Bingaman said.
“Clearly, we can make an argument some of these projects should be
included in the funding for the stimulus package.”

Clovis Mayor and authority chair Gayla Brumfield estimated the
stimulus will exceed $1 billion and will include a focus on water
projects after meetings in Washington, D.C. earlier this week.

Brumfield said an estimated $22 million intake project at the
reservoir isn’t quite shovel-ready, but the design can be finished so
intake construction could start within six months with stimulus funds.
With that work started, Brumfield said it would be easier to get
appropriations on an annual basis.

“My opinion is, because of the stimulus,” Brumfield said, “I think
it’s going to go a little faster than what we were first thinking.”

When completed, water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County will be
piped to the authority’s entities — currently Clovis, Portales, Texico,
Grady, Elida, Melrose, and Curry and Roosevelt Counties.

The project would be funded 75 percent federally, 15 percent by the
state and 10 percent by authority members. The projected cost of the
Ute pipeline is $432 million and would take 10 to 12 years to complete.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a former representative, introduced
similar legislation in the House of Representatives at the end of last
year’s session. The measure passed, but never got out of the Senate.

“With the Senate’s passage of the Ute Pipeline legislation, the goal
of so many eastern New Mexico community leaders is closer to being
realized,” said Udall. “ I hope the House will now move swiftly to help
ensure that eastern New Mexico continues to have the resources it needs
for a vibrant and secure future.”