By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
New Mexico American Water General Manager Kathy Wright says criticism of her company has reached a level of unfairness.
During a Clovis City Commission meeting Thursday night, Wright defended her company and its role in the community to commissioners tasked with deciding if the city should withdraw from a water users working group NMAW has facilitated.
Commissioners ultimately voted 7-0 to table the resolution to withdraw after almost an hour of discussion on the issue.
“I am a lifelong resident of this community as are the 19 employees,” Wright said. “Some of the comments have crossed the line … They are not fair to my employees, not fair to the company and not fair to me. It’s our community as well.”
Controversy surfaced April 5, when the state engineer’s office announced it was granting the water utility’s request for expedited emergency authorization to combine water rights.
State officials said the utility’s request was approved because the company said it may not be able to meet the city’s water needs after May 10.
The utility also has an application pending for permanent combined water rights. It has been delayed by protests from community members, particularly in agriculture.
Combining water rights allows the utility to apply higher water pumping limits to wells that previously had lower limits.
The state said it will not interfere with other water users in the community. Opponents argue it will allow the utility to use more water and deplete the water of others.
Opponents also said the utility misled a community group, the Clovis Water Users Working Group, making its members believe they were involved in finding a solution while the utility filed for the expedited emergency permit without telling anyone.
Curry County and several other members have withdrawn from the group.
Wright said in hindsight, NMAW should have told people it was submitting the expedited.
She said it was not a devious move and her company acted in the interests of the community.
The utility has engaged in research, stood behind the Ute Water Project, launched conservation projects and continues to try to meet the water demands of the city, Wright said, urging commissioners to stay at the discussion table.
“The bottom line is New Mexico American is a part of the community. We’re joined at the hip here,” she said.
NMAW board member David Lansford defended the company and said commissioners needed to keep the city at the table.
“New Mexican American was referred to as being incompetent, uncaring … They did not lie at all,” Lansford said. “If we don’t come together and put our self interests aside, we’re going to crumble as a community.
“It just hurt me when some of the name calling went on.”
Commission members said they wanted to continue discussions, acknowledging the importance of finding a mutually beneficial solution.
“It is essential to continue the work,” Commissioner Randall Crowder said.
Crowder, however, said he does not think the group can be effective the way it is structured with utility facilitating.
Crowder said other committees are already being created to continue the work the group began.
“The fear for most of the group is a lack of trust with the existing committee,” he said. “I don’t see how in the world it could be productive with the facilitator that’s there … There’s a strong perception of bias whether it’s there or not.”
Commissioner Bobby Sandoval encouraged the resolution be tabled to give the issue time to calm and see if the group could be salvaged.
“Let’s table it and see if things get better,” he said.
Sandoval’s sentiment was echoed by other members of the commission who expressed a need for work to continue on the issue, even if it ultimately is done through another group.