By Michelle Seeber
Unless Tucumcari is willing to give up part of the water it has reserved at Ute Lake, chances are good the Eastern New Mexico Pipeline Project will fail, Clovis Mayor David Lansford said.
But Tucumcari officials do not want to give up their excess share of water, Lansford told the Clovis City Commission while outlining the project and what it involved on Thursday night.
The solution, he said, would be for Tucumcari to hand over a portion of its share to Portales, which is growing.
Quay County Commissioner Franklin McCasland said in a telephone interview after the meeting that the water Tucumcari and Quay County have reserved is for the growth of the Tucumcari area.
“The growth is going to be where the water is,” McCasland said. “This water will be able to be leased. It can be leased to Portales by Tucumcari.”
During his presentation, Lansford showed a graph of the water reserved at Ute Lake.
According to his presentation, Tucumcari has more than double the water it needs on reserve, while Portales has less than two thirds.
If the two entities requesting federal dollars for the project cannot show that Tucumcari can pay for its water, federal dollars will not be forthcoming, Lansford said.
As a result, Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties will end up having to seek other sources for water in the coming years, because they won’t be able to pay for a water pipeline to the area, Lansford said.
The total estimated cost of the Eastern New Mexico Pipeline Project is $298 million, he said.
“We have a 10 percent local share (to pay),” Lansford said of the 12 communities participating in the project, which together would pay $30 million. “Clovis makes up a little more than half of that. Clovis’ share would be $15 million over 10 years.
“Our citizens are willing to pay the $15 million,” he said of Clovis.
However, he said, Tucumcari won’t be able to afford its reserves at its current level, because of its depressed economy and dwindling population.
But McCasland believes Tucumcari will be a boom-town with the extra water and be able to lease portions of it to other municipalities. Because Ute Lake is near Tucumcari, McCasland said water will be cheaper for Tucumcari and Quay County than for Clovis and Portales.
“We all live in a desert, and we have to hang onto the water that we have for our future and the future of our kids and grandkids,” McCasland said.
McCasland admitted that Tucumcari is suffering growth-wise, but eventually people will go where the water is.
“Besides,” he said, “this thing is going to be built in four or five phases. Our costs are not going to be as much as Clovis or Portales. Clovis and Portales will get the pipeline first.”
According to the presentation, the project would be funded 80 percent by federal dollars if approved, Lansford said. The state would pay for the remaining 10 percent.
Because the cost is prohibitive, the project depends on receiving the federal dollars.
“I am definitely in favor of Tucumcari giving 1,000 acre feet of water (per year) to Portales,” Lansford said.
An acre foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons of water.
During discussion of the project that followed Lansford’s presentation, Commissioner Kevin Duncan questioned Ute Lake’s permanency as a water source.
He pointed out that over the years, the amount of water available would constantly be changing because of a build up of silt and sediment in the lake.
City Manager Ray Mondragon said in reply that sedimentation eventually will end the life of the lake.
However, he said, the cities involved in the project would still save money over the long haul by building the pipeline to the lake.