Ute bill makes progress in Senate

A package of bills, including a measure to authorize the Ute Water Project, passed the first of two procedural votes in the Senate on Sunday.

Jude McCartin, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the first vote was a cloture vote to bring the bill to the floor, which passed 66-22. The second cloture vote will be on the bill itself.

A cloture vote requires 60 votes to proceed in a full Senate, but only 59 votes are needed currently as two senators are yet to be seated.

Should the second cloture vote pass, there will be a vote on the bill. McCartin is optimistic both will pass midway through the week.

“I think the number, 66-12, indicates there’s broad support in the Senate,” McCartin said.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, the chair of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority, which is overseeing the pipeline project, is currently in Washington, D.C., visiting with the state delegation. She said should the bill pass the Senate, it would move to the House of Representatives.

“Nothing’s guaranteed,” Brumfield said, “but we feel good about it maybe being done by the end of January.”

The bill would authorize the Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million to assist the authority in construction of the pipeline project. When completed, water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County would piped to the authority’s entities — currently Clovis, Portales, Texico, Grady, Elida, Melrose, and Curry and Roosevelt Counties.

The project would be funded 75 percent federally, 15 percent by the state and 10 percent by authority members. The projected cost of the Ute pipeline is $432 million and would take 10 to 12 years to complete.

Also included are measures for water projects in the San Juan River Basin and an irrigation infrastructure improvement act for the Rio Grande Pueblos.

“They’re not important to everybody in the country,” McCartin said. “They’re usually important to the two senators and the House member representing that district. So we usually need to package them together to get support to move ahead, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”