Expert says Ute pipeline best water option

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The water JE Williams needed to brush his teeth and wash his dishes, among other things, ran out less than a year ago. After hauling water from a house he rents in town, the Clovis resident spent a lot of money to build another well on his isolated property. That well will also dry up, probably in six or seven years, he said.

His water woes are shared by other eastern New Mexico rural neighbors.

“Our home is paid for. We are getting ready to retire. Now, we are about to run out of water. How would you feel?,” queried fellow rural resident Linda Teakell.

Although their homes sit on sparsely populated county roads, the water concerns of Teakell and Williams apply to the entire eastern New Mexico region. The saucer-shaped Ogallala Aquifer is the only source of water for municipal and agricultural needs in eastern New Mexico. And continued trends will essentially exhaust the groundwater resource, according to the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority.

The best water resource alternative for the region is the Ute Reservoir, according to water expert Brock McEwen of CM2M HILL, an international water infrastructure and facility design corporation hired by ENMRWA. To meet water demands through the year 2042, more than 360 wells would need to be drilled in Clovis and Portales, McEwen said.

He presented his assessment of five water alternatives Wednesday night to an audience of more than 50 Clovis and Portales residents at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

The only sustainable water option for the region is to extract water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County and build a water treatment plant in mid-Curry County to filter the water, said McEwen, with multiple cost comparison charts, maps and graphs in tow. He said the project would skim 16,450 acre-feet of water from the surface of Ute Reservoir per year. It would take seven to 10 years to fully implement the project, said Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority Program Manager Scott Verhines.

The major stumbling block is the project’s cost, McEwen and city officials agree.

It calls for an estimated $370 million. Others fear the project could deplete the Ute Reservoir, a major source of tourism and revenue in Quay County, leaving it a muddy mess and vulnerable in times of drought. McEwen and Clovis Mayor David Lansford said that fear is unrealistic.

City commissioners said an initial request for 80 percent federal funding of the project was denied. The commission submitted a request for 75 percent federal funding, which would leave 15 percent of funding to the state and 10 to local means. The nearly six-month-old request has yet to be approved or denied, Commissioner Randal Crowder said.

Despite funding uncertainties, many city and county officials support the project.

“We have no choice. We have no alternative in my view,” said Clovis Industrial Development Corp. employee Gene Hendrick.