Ute Water Project reviewed

By Jack King

Clovis and Curry County commissioners received an overview of the Ute Water Project from Scott A. Verhines, program manager of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority, at a joint city-county luncheon Wednesday.
Verhines said the project is expected to take 10 years and can be divided into three phases.
n Phase one will include preliminary design, environmental assessments, purchase of easements, rights of way and real property, and building of the main pipeline from Ute Lake to Portales.
n Phase two will include building lateral ties to communities along the pipeline.
n Phase three will include building treatment plants and plumbing infrastructure for water distribution.
ENMRWA board members went before the state Water Trust Board on Monday to request $1.8 million to cover start up expenses for phase one work and will go to Washington, D.C., next week to request more money from the federal government, Verhines said.
In talking to the governmental agencies, Verhines said it is important to emphasize that there aren’t any practical alternatives to the Ute Water Project for providing an continuing source of water for the region.
“What’s the cost of not doing anything?” he asked. “The Ogallala Aquifer is declining and the cost of getting water from it will continue to rise.”
The project will face a number of challenges over its 10-year lifespan, he added.
Those challenges include creating a cost structure that will let all communities participate in it, retaining all of the project’s current members, dealing with and participating in a Ute Lake master plan to protect the quality of that water source, finding funding, overcoming misinformation about the project and maintaining momentum.
Commissioners noted that Clovis is the only community in the project with a private water system and asked what New Mexico American Water thinks of the project.
Mayor David Lansford said New Mexico American Water has given “verbal support” to the project and there has been “some talk” between the city and the company about New Mexico American either operating Clovis’s part of the system or retailing water it would buy from the project at a wholesale rate.
“New Mexico American Water Co. thinks this is a worthwhile project for the region and has been in support of it ever since we’ve been in business in New Mexico,” New Mexico American Vice President Kathy Wright said later Tuesday.
“We plan on having a memorandum of understanding with the city, which would be an on-going document and plan on being a partner in the project,” she added.
Verhines said the project probably will cost Clovis a total of $5.4 million per year and Curry County a total of $64,274 per year. Lansford said the cost of the project probably will be passed on to consumers, possibly through a surcharge on water bills.
Asked about water storage, Verhines said one plan is to pump the water up into a storage tank on the Caprock, south of Ute Lake, then use gravity to send it to user communities. But, each community would not have its own storage tank. Some would get their water from a larger community, he said.
In other business, County Manager Geneva Cooper said the county commission will go to Lea County Friday to study the operation of a county special events center there.
Clovis City Manager Ray Mondragon said the city-county Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad expansion taskforce will meet at 2 p.m. Nov. 19 to discuss the State Road 467 overpass. The state highway department has designated the overpass a “priority project,” he said