By Kevin Baird
CNJ STAFF WRITER
Paul Van Gulick, program manager of the Ute Water Project, told legislators at Thursday’s legislative water and natural resources committee meeting that underneath Portales the Ogallala Aquifer has only 40 feet of saturated thickness, and it is depleting at a rate of 4 feet per year.
If this rate of depletion continues the saturated thickness would be depleted in 10 years.
“It doesn’t mean they’ll be out of water,” Van Gulick said in a phone interview about Portales’ aquifer situation, “but it signifies an impending crisis.”
The Ute Water Project is a federally authorized $500 million project that will pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Logan to communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties, but completion is 20 years out, officials said. Recently officials determined an interim fix is needed.
Under the plan, the water authority would construct an interim pipeline, which will run from northern Curry County, west of Cannon Air Force Base, and toward Portales and Elida, with water purchased from private landowners. Called Phase 2, the interim pipeline would be complete in 10 years, officials said.
Van Gulick likened the interim pipeline to a diversified water portfolio, giving communities more than one source of water.
Portales isn’t the only member of the ENMWUA with a water depletion problem. Van Gulick read highlights from a letter dated Sept. 7, 2012, from Brig. Gen. Albert “Buck” Elton, who was commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base at the time, which was addressed to the water authority.
The letter said, Air Force Special Operations Command commissioned a study to asses the condition of the aquifer beneath Cannon, and, “That study … reveals that the aquifer is declining at such a rate that we will begin experiencing impacts by the end of this decade.” It continued, “the recently completed study clearly highlights the urgency of the Ute Pipeline Project.”
Information provided by EPCOR Water to the ENMWUA was also presented. The report showed that in 2000 there were 28 wells in Clovis producing more than 10,000 gallons of water per minute. In 2012, it took 64 wells to produce about 7,000 gallons of water.
Van Gulick said the aquifer is depleting at a rates of up to 5.8 feet per year in some places.
Once the system of lateral lines are completed, private landowners will be able to sell well water to ENMWUA members. Van Gulick said in a phone interview that ENMWUA members will negotiate with the landowners over water prices and how the water will be connected to that entities water supply. He added that ENMWUA will ensure that only quality water is sold to the members. He said he did not have an estimate for how much landowners might charge ENMWUA members for their water.
Once the entire project is completed, Van Gulick said the last financial estimate placed the cost of pumping water to the ENMWUA members at $3 per 1,000 gallons. In a phone interview, Van Gulick said he didn’t have an estimation of how this cost would factor into people’s water bills.
In a phone interview, District Manager Brian Daly of EPCOR Water said his company will probably enter into negotiations with Clovis to figure water prices and rates. He said it is too soon to make an estimate on how prices might change.
Sen. Don Griggs said other sources of water aside from the Ute reservoir should be considered in solving the aquifer dilemma. He said New Mexico has tremendous amounts of brackish water, or briny-salinated water. He asked if Clovis and Portales have looked into using brackish water.
Daly said the EPCOR spent about $1 million in 2010 drilling 1,660 feet into the ground, below the aquifer, to test the brackish water. He said the quality and the quantity of the brackish water was poor. He added that bringing the brackish water to surface and treating it would be expensive for customers. In an e-mail he wrote that treating the brackish water would also create a stream of wastewater that would need to be disposed of.
Van Gulick said Senate Bill 715 would create mandatory funding for authorized rural water projects. Over the phone Van Gulick said this bill would add certainty to the UWP completion as well as speed up the construction process.
In 2009 it was estimated the entire project would cost $500 million. The costs were split so that 10 percent would be paid by the member entities with the federal and state governments paying for 75 and 15 percent respectively. He said all the members of the water authority together pay $1 million a year to pay off their portion of the cost.
Ute water project at a glance
• Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority Members: Clovis, Curry County, Portales, Grady, Melrose, Texico, Cannon and Elida.
• Phase one: An water intake facility is currently being built at Ute Reservoir.
• Phase two: An interim water pipeline will be built and connect the ENMWUA members.
• Completed project: The Ute Pipeline Project will pump water from the Ute Reservoir to the member communities.
• Total estimated cost: $500 million.
• Completion: Phase two is to be completed in 10 years. The entire project in 20 years.