No money for Ute water project in 2012 budget

Kevin Wilson

If Monday was any indication, 2012 might be a dry year for the Ute Water Project.

President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget proposal, unveiled Monday, has no money set aside for the $500 million project, which would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to members of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority.

The budget did include millions in funding for continued construction at Cannon Air Force Base.

Congress will use this budget proposal as a blueprint when it develops spending bills to fund the federal government in 2012.

The financial obligation for the project, authorized in 2009, is 75 percent from the federal government, 15 percent from the state government and 10 percent authority members.

“Unfortunately, this year’s call for fiscal restraint means there will be projects in New Mexico and around the country that will left behind,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a release. “I am disappointed that the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Project is one of them. I will continue to push for funding for this important initiative, but it will be difficult to secure funding this year in light of the current ban on seeking earmarked funds for such projects.”

Bingaman chairs the Senate Committee on Water and Natural Resources.

Gayla Brumfield, Clovis’ mayor, is chair of the water utility authority, which is responsible for creating and maintaining the project. She expected a lean year for the Ute Water Project, and noted that other projects are ahead of it — including a Navajo water settlement project which received $30.8 million in the budget.

“That one has been in the pipeline longer than ours has been, and they received $182 million just months ago,” Brumfield said. “We knew this was going to be a tough year. Everybody’s looking at the deficit and needing to tighten up. We feel good about moving up (on the priority list).”

Brumfield said a visit to Washington, D.C., is scheduled for March, and the hope is to change some minds when spending bills are written. She said “nothing’s a done deal until it’s a done deal” and she’s seen support increase for the project over her two years as mayor.

“It is a priority, but with huge projects it just takes years,” Brumfield said. “And (our project has only been) authorized for two years.”

Scott Verhines, program manager for the authority, said a pair of requests were made to the federal government regarding the Ute Water Project.

“One was for the 2011 budget, and it was for $2 million. It was a write-in to the Bureau of Reclamation budget by our delegation. That $2 million, because they’re on a continuing resolution, and because the House says no write-ins are allowed, we’re not sure we’ll get anything or not.”

A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by Congress to fund government agencies if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law.

The second request, Verhines said, was for $25 million in the 2012 budget. The result was disappointing, Verhines said, but not surprising and not a lack of endorsement for the project.

“When I looked at the Bureau of Reclamation’s budget, none of the rural water projects around the country fared very well,” Verhines said. “It certainly wasn’t anything personal. The way I read that, the emphasis is on obligations the Bureau of Reclamation already has … for projects that are already in place.”

Verhines said the authority holds $13 million, all but about $1 million from state and authority members. That, he said, should be enough to pay for construction of the intake structure (pumping station) and take the project into 2013.

The authority meets 10 a.m. Thursday at Clovis’ city hall.

The Clovis City Commission, in its Feb. 3 meeting, passed an ordinance for a .25 percent gross receipts tax increase to provide money for Clovis’ share of the project. There is a petition being circulated in the city to force a special election on the commission’s decision. When asked if the tax increase is a harder sell given no demonstrated federal commitment, she felt the opposite was true.

“I think, if anything, we need to send a stronger message,” Brumfield said. “The community is behind it, we’re stepping up, we’re putting our best foot forward.”

At the end of each federal fiscal year, around September, Verhines said, there is sometimes money left over that didn’t get expended for projects, and that money is available for projects that are ready to go.

“We’ll certainly have our work in,” Verhines said, “and be eligible in a September time-frame.”

Cannon funding included in the president’s budget:

• $7.5 million upgrade wastewater treatment plant

• $15 million for dormitory (96 rooms)

• $9.6 million for simulator facility

• $15 million for aircraft maintenance squadron facility

• $28 million for apron and taxiway

• $10.9 million for C-130 Squadron operations facility

• $10.8 million for C-130 washrack hangar

• $41 million for hangar aircraft maintenance unit

• $17 million squadron operations facility