Quay residents plan protest of start of pipeline project

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

Residents, business owners and public officials are using the social network Facebook to organize a protest against the start of Phase 1 of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System’s Ute Pipeline Project.

The groundbreaking for the ENMRWS project is set for 11:30 a.m. Aug. 11 along the south side shore a Ute Lake Reservoir.

A grassroots movement has been started calling local residents to picket the site on the day of the groundbreaking.

“Our main concern is the economy and livelihood of Logan and Quay County,” said local business owner Ben Newton.

Newton acknowledges his concern might be perceived as biased. He is the owner of Ruf Nec Bait and Tackle in Logan.

“Yes, I am a the owner of a bait shop,” Newton said, “though my concern is for all of the business in Logan and Quay County.”

Newton said he and several others are concerned because a minimum pool level has not been established.

“Once they start pumping,” Logan Mayor David Babb said, “what’s to stop them from draining it all?”

Since 2009, the Ute Water Commission has tried without success to set a minimum pool elevation level of 3,765 feet. At that level the lake would still support fish and wildlife habitats and recreational use.

Babb, a supporter of the protest, said negotiations are still in process to set a minimum pool level.

“We know they have water rights,” Babb said. “We are just concerned they will not stop until the lake is bone dry.”

The authority understands people are going to have concerns about the project, said Chairwoman Gayla Brumfield, who is also mayor of Clovis.

Brumfield said she has heard about the planned protest and the concerns.

“A level has been set to limit the amount of water the authority can pump each year,” Brumfield said. “The fact is providing water for our area is reason that lake was built in the first place.”

Brumfield said while the groundbreaking will be on Aug. 11, actual construction will begin on a later date. She said construction of the intake station will cost $11.5 million.

“Moving into the actual construction phase will help our attempts to secure future federal funding,” Brumfield said.

The $432 million Ute Water project would deliver 16,450 acre-feet a year to its member communities, including Clovis and Portales. An acre-foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons of water.

Brumfield said getting the project started is crucial to obtaining the necessary federal funding needed to complete the project. A project that has construction in progress is placed higher on the list of federal funding priorities, she said.

“Securing the future of drinking water for Eastern New Mexico is crucial,” Brumfield said.

The intake system is being built before the actual pipeline has even been started, said Village of Logan Attorney Warren Frost.

“They are basically building a $11 million hole in the ground,” Frost said. “We understand they want to show the federal government they are moving forward. You would think they would want to start on the pipeline and in their own county first.”