Water officials say meetings crucial

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority has long held public education and federal authorization as its two biggest keys for the Ute Water Project.

If the next few months go to plan, they’ll take care of both.

The plan is to have two hearings related to the pipeline project, ENMRWA Chairman and Clovis Mayor David Lansford said. The first hearing would be in eastern New Mexico, prior to an authorization bill being introduced into the 110th Congress. The second hearing would be in Washington.

The first hearing, Lansford said, would be a public hearing with the Interstate Stream Commission playing a role. The ISC would give its objections and recommendations to the authority.

That information, Lansford said, would then be on public record and would be addressed during a hearing in Washington.

“Hopefully, we can show them this project is needed, it’s the only project for our needs … and there’s no way for them to object,” Lansford said.

Members wanted to schedule the first hearing in either May or June.

The project involves building a pipeline that would take water from the Ute Reservoir near Logan to participating communities. The current price tag is $432 million, with the federal government paying 75 percent, the state 15 percent and authority members 10 percent.

Authority members hope they’ll be able to build federal support with a good showing in the state Legislature.

Project Chairman Scott Verhines updated members on 14 bills currently in the House or Senate that affect the project.

“There’s been a lot of water rhetoric in the Legislature,” Verhines said. “It remains to be seen … whether (lawmakers) did any good.”

Verhines said he had yet to see Gov. Bill Richardson’s $5 million commitment to the project, but authority Vice Chairman and Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, was putting it into a capital outlay request bill he was carrying for the governor.

In other business at the meeting:

Walter Hines of the Albuquerque-based CH2MHill firm said a report was almost finished on the possibility of building a wind energy plant to help offset Ute Water Project costs.

Hines said a 200-megawatt plant could cover 40 percent to 50 percent of the project’s cost, and there is space for such a plant in Logan, Caprock or Grady.

Grady Mayor Wesley Shafer joked the plant could be in his back yard if it helped offset project costs.

Obstacles to such a measure, Hines said, included startup costs in the “hundreds of millions” and finding a power company to take the power. Ortega added doubts about long-term profits, since wind energy gets much of its funding through tax credits that may not last.