Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega spent Thursday in Washington, D.C., with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
He told a Water and Power Subcommittee he believed the Ute Water Project is a necessary answer to water concerns in eastern New Mexico, and that enough studying has been done to prove that.
“I thought we did a good job,” Ortega said. “I thought we made progress.”
Ortega, vice chair of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority, spoke Thursday on behalf of the authority. Ortega also read remarks by Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield during testimony. Brumfield also attended the meeting.
Ortega spoke in favor of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act, which instruct the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million to assist with construction of a pipeline from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the authority’s eight entities.
That represents 75 percent of the funding for the $432 million project. The remaining 25 percent would be funded through the state and local entities — 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Ortega told committee members the authority has studied the project costs over the years, and the Ute Water Project was the least expensive solution for water needs.
“It’s the best alternative for our region, it’s the most cost effective,” Ortega said. “We’ve basically met everything they’ve asked for.
“I believe we have demonstrated we have studied this thing enough. It’s time to move forward, it’s time to construct this.”
Further testimony would come in the second week of May, Authority Chairman David Lansford said, when Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., addresses a companion bill which was introduced simultaneously in the House of Representatives.
The question Ortega said he got most from Senate committee members dealt with eastern New Mexico’s future without the project.
“That’s a bleak future for our communities if we don’t have a sustainable water source. It’s very tough to recruit businesses ... and to grow our communities.”
In other testimony, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson objected to the project based on its cost. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the committee’s chairman, said he would not be deterred on the bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
“Without a pipeline, eastern New Mexico’s future is at risk,” Bingaman said in a release. “Knowing this, I will continue working with Sen. Domenici and Rep. Udall to build support for this legislation and get it enacted into law.”