Citizens group argues for halt to water project

A meeting to discuss the $500 million Ute Water Pipeline Project escalated into a screaming match Friday in Portales between residents who oppose the project and local officials addressing their concerns.

At one point police — who were asked by city officials to attend the meeting for security reasons — asked an audience member to control himself or he would be removed from the meeting.

Members of the Concerned Citizens of Curry and Roosevelt Counties made their plea, often times with yelling and passionate discourse, asking the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority to halt its plans to start the first phase of construction on April 22 because they are wary of the financial support of the project and had other alternatives to suggest.

Ultimately, the ENMWUA said it would proceed with its plans to start the building of the intake structure at Ute Reservoir, the first phase of the project that would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to the member entities in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

"We are requesting environmental protection of Ute Lake," said Greg Neal, consultant for the CCCRC. "You have to evaluate all viable alternatives for drinking water."

Some considered Neal's presentation and request on behalf of the CCCRC a couple of years too late and even less likely to have an impact on the ENMWUA's decisions since members plan to meet with U.S. senators in May in hopes to secure funding for 2014 and 2015.

According to the water utility authority Chair Gayla Brumfield, 75 percent of the project will be funded by the federal government, 15 percent from the state and 10 percent from communities represented in the ENMWUA.

But Neal and others are concerned that depending on the federal government to fund 75 percent of the project is a gamble, especially with current government spending cuts and they urged the authority to look at alternatives such as agricultural water in Curry and Roosevelt counties and water from the Santa Rosa Aquifer.

"Examine all cost factors because we don't have the federal commitment yet," Neal said.

Neal's presentation also speculated that there is available drinking water that has been easily identified within a 30-mile area of Clovis.

"I literally walked properties and talked to property owners. There are four wells combined that can produce 300 gallons of fresh water (per minute)," Neal said.

Neal also said that the ENMWUA's environmental assessment falls short by not mentioning aquifers in Santa Rosa or Dockum in West Texas.

But the members of the ENMWUA told Neal that his presentation contained no science-based research and that this project, that has been well under way for about 50 years, is the best solution to the water shortage issues of the area.

"Every decision that we've made has been on hard science," said Portales Mayor Sharon King, a member of the ENMWUA. "Our communities are literally going to die if we don't get this water."

"I appreciate you being here, but there's been 50 years of research," Brumfield added.

Another audience member said because the project has been discussed for 50 years, the technology behind the project must also be that old and urged the ENMWUA to look at alternative water supplies.

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