Ute water authority focusing on feds

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Referencing the recently released “Believe In Me” film partially filmed in eastern New Mexico, Ute Water Project Manager Scott Verhines used a basketball term in seeking federal authorization for the pipeline project.

“I think there is a consensus it is time for a full court press,” Verhines said during Wednesday’s Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority meeting at Portales’ city Hall. “There’s concurrence we need to ratchet things up.”

The timing is quite relevant for the authority, and the fate of the proposed pipeline project that would move Ute Reservoir water to participating communities. Members are preparing for a field hearing on the subject with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and senior member Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

Verhines said members need a consistent, unified message to convince the federal government, which would be on the hook for 75 percent of the project’s estimated $432 million price tag. The state would take on 15 percent and the authority members would handle 10 percent and all operating costs following construction.

Members are confident they have the state’s backing. So far, the authority has received $7.5244 million from the state and has support from state agencies such as the Interstate Streams Commission and Water Trust Board.

Verhines covered goals for the authority. They included a funding/financing proposal by December, federal authorization of the project by October 2008 and a 30 percent design by May 2009.

Authority Chairman David Lansford said Verhine’s report was “pretty close to the mark” regarding realistic goals.

To help on the federal end, the authority will seek help from new project campaign consultants John Ryan and Joe Thompson. Ryan, a state senator from Albuquerque, and Thompson, a former state representative, were endorsed by Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, during the meeting.

Lansford said the authority concedes it doesn’t have the contacts and experience needed to convince Washington, and he was optimistic the pair could fill that gap.

“I think you’ve got a good project,” Ryan said. “You’ve got a good story, and we want to help tell it.”

In other business at the meeting, Ute Dam Manager Kent Terry said the reservoir gained 2,000 acre feet of water as a result of a Tuesday night storm and the reservoir is at 96 percent of its authorized capacity. Any water above the capacity is released to Texas.