Ute pipeline legislation headed to president

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

The Ute Water Project has cleared Congress.

Senate Bill 22, commonly known as the Bingaman lands bill, contains 160 projects, including the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System.

The bill passed the House on a 285-140 vote Wednesday, and now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee and author of the bill, said he expects Obama to sign the bill next week.

The authorization allows the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority to seek funding through federal appropriations. The appropriation process begins in October.

But even though the Ute Water Project is poised to get started, completing the system that will pipe water to communities across eastern New Mexico is years away from becoming reality.

Officials estimate it could take at least a decade to complete right-of-way purchases and actually put the pipeline in place.

The Eastern New Mexico Water System bill allows the Bureau of Reclamation to spend up to $327 million to assist the authority in building the Ute Water Pipeline.

When completed, water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County would be piped to the authority’s entities — currently Clovis, Portales, Texico, Grady, Elida, Melrose, and Curry and Roosevelt Counties.

Clovis Mayor and ENMRWA Chair Gayla Brumfield said she was thrilled to hear the news, with authorization being one of the project’s major hurdles.

The project would be funded 75 percent federally, 15 percent by the state and 10 percent by communities that are authority members.

The projected cost of the Ute pipeline is $432 million, and Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority members estimate it would take 10 to 12 years to complete.

“Some of these projects … it’s clear it will take some significant time,” Bingaman said. “That was anticipated when we drafted this legislation. We think we at least have a roadmap for how we can proceed to appropriate funds.”

Brumfield is hopeful construction can start in the next six months on limited projects associated with the pipeline before appropriations come.

“We’re also waiting to hear on some stimulus money on the intake,” Brumfield said, “so that will be a help.”

The measure gained the support of 274 Democrats (including all three New Mexico representatives) and 38 Republicans.

Four Democrats joined 136 Republicans in opposition.

On the Web

http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2009/index.asp

The bill is under Roll Call 153.