U.S. House passes Ute Water Project funding bill

Gabriel Monte

A bill authorizing federal funding for the Ute Water Project has passed what area officials call a major milestone.

The House voted 301-124 Thursday to pass the bill authorizing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to spend $327 million on a project that would pipe water from the Ute Lake Reservoir to eight eastern New Mexico entities.

The bill will go to the Senate for consideration.

“The House’s strong bipartisan approval for the bill shows that we came up with a smart plan that everybody can support,” Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a press release.

Jude McCartin a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said there is no timeline set for when the Senate will consider the bill.

Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced an identical bill in the Senate. McCartin said the bill could be packaged with other legislation to increase the chance it will pass in the Senate and be signed into law this year.

Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority Chairman David Lansford said he is optimistic that the bill will garner the same support in the Senate. He said no bill regarding the Ute Water Project has ever made it out of committee.

“The House of Representatives clearly understand that there’s widespread support and commitment for this project to be developed,” he said. “This vote, if you have done the math on it, is a 70 percent support for the bill. So seven out of 10 voting members of the House of Representatives that voted on this legislation are in favor of it, which I think is overwhelming. I look forward to see the Senate move this legislation through, hopefully as rapidly as what the house has done.”

The federal government would help pay for 75 percent of the $437 million project. The state will pay for 15 percent and local governments will pay for 10 percent.