Richardson visits Clovis to sign Ute water authority legislation

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Gov. Bill Richardson signs House Bill 15 into law Saturday at the Clovis-Carver Public Library. The bill changes the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority from a joint power agreement into a utility authority. Looking on is Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, who introduced the bill.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Gov. Bill Richardson cleared the way for the next step in the Ute Water Project, signing new legislation Saturday in Clovis.

House Bill 15, signed into law in a ceremony at the Clovis-Carver Public Library, changes the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority into a utility authority.

The authority has operated as a joint powers agreement and will continue doing so until the bill takes effect July 1.

Richardson said authority status adds bonding ability, establishes jurisdiction and grants greater stature when lobbying.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, made its way to Richardson with unanimous passage in the House and Senate and the subcommittees for each.

“That doesn’t happen,” said Clovis Mayor and Authority Chair Gayla Brumfield, “unless you have the kind of support you have from the state level and the community.”

The authority is responsible for the Ute Water Project, a $432 million pipeline that would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the authority’s member entities.

The federal government will pay 75 percent of the cost, with 15 percent provided by the state and 10 percent by local entities.

Crook said it was a “delight” to carry the legislation with the support of the community and State Engineer John D’Antonio.

“You don’t sign very much of my legislation,” Crook joked to Richardson, a Democrat who is term-limited after eight years in the office.

“You have to have this,” Richardson said. “It’s crucial to the economic development. The Ogallala Aquifer can’t meet the demand for the future.”

D’Antonio said there were plenty of people to thank for the project’s progress to this date, including former Clovis Mayor David Lansford and outgoing Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega.

“At any point,” D’Antonio said, “anything can hold things up … so this was a good team effort.”

Following the signing ceremony, Richardson answered questions about the recent legislative special session:

Q: Are you planning on signing the food tax, which is something you’ve opposed?

A: I don’t know; I’m deciding that now. I’ve got 20 days. I’m probably going to take all of them. (Richardson said he’s looking into if he could even use a line-item veto since it is part of a budget bill.)

Q: You joked to the state legislators you’d be seeing them for another special session. Do you think the revenue projections will hold, or will another session be needed?

A: I believe the revenues will hold up. My economists and budget analysts have confidence the revenues will hold up. (Richardson added that he’s already been through 12 Legislature sessions, and he’s not interested in a 13th.)

Q: If the revenue projections don’t hold up, the Legislature has given you unilateral authority to cut personnel and services. Would you do that?

A: I’d have to. Those would probably have to be across-the-board cuts.