Water project in search of federal funds

Jack King

SAN JON — The state Interstate Stream Commission has begun briefing New Mexico Congressional representatives on the Ute Water Project in preparation for asking for federal funds.
Doug Murray, the ISC’s liaison to the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority, told ENMRWA’s board at a meeting in San Jon he has briefed staff persons for Reps. Steve Pierce, Tom Udall and Heather Wilson. Michael L. Connor, Democratic counsel on the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said he will draft a bill requesting the funding, which probably will be introduced in January.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is chairman of the committee and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is its ranking Democratic member.
The ENMRWA plans to ask Congress for “authorization” of the project, after which the project will be eligible for funding. The ENMRWA plans to ask Congress for $195,645,100, paid over a 10-year period, said Scott Verhines, the authority’s new program director.
The amount represents 80 percent of the project’s total funding. The water authority is seeking an 80-10-10 percent split between the federal and state governments and participating local entities. It is seeking $24,665,450, over a 10-year period, from the New Mexico Water Trust Board, and another $24,665,450 from local entities, to be paid over a 20-year period.
At least one local entity is raising questions about its ability to pay for the project.
Larry Wallin, Logan’s village administrator, told the board the Quay County town is considering putting in a new $6 million sewer system that could raise its sewer rates between $35 and $40 a month. He said the village may have to make a choice between paying for the sewer system and paying for the water project.
He emphasized that Logan hasn’t made a decision between the two choices, but added, “If we go to the project and the sewer project, it would be way out of line.”
The cost of the project to small communities has raised concerns and board members said Aug. 13 they would discuss “cost leveling” where costs are spread among participating communities. It was suggested that cost leveling be done only among the towns in each county. In Curry County, Clovis, Melrose and Texico representatives met Sept. 10 and developed two models for cost leveling — one using a percentage and one using a single rate increase.
In other business:
n The ENMRWA chose the Louis Berger Group, with Verhines as its point man, as the Ute Water Project’s program director. Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the group scored higher in the board’s deliberations than three other candidates — Michael Barnes, Dan Isreal and Richard Smith.
n It chose the ISC as joint lead, with itself and the Bureau of Reclamation, in the project’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. A lead agency has decision-making power in the process, which assesses a project’s environment impact. Murray said the NEPA process would not begin until after the Ute Water Project receives federal authorization.