Water solution will be mix of sources

A fter decades of worrying and arguing, dreaming and wishing, the Ute Reservoir Pipeline Project is showing another in a series of positive steps forward.

Last week, led by Mayor David Lansford, Clovis city officials took a step to address the short-term water supply. He recommended to the city’s Water Policy Advisory Board to purchase a local farmer’s water rights with economic development funds.

Lansford suggests designating water below 930 acres of farmland near Cannon Air Force Base for use there, as one way to help alleviate any concerns the military may have about future sustainability of this premier special operations base.

The mayor also told the water board the plan is an investment, not an expense, since water would be leased to the base to offset acquisition costs.

The concept seems sound. While private developers haven’t surfaced to lead this charge, this step is a better way to spend taxpayer dollars than some that are proposed. The base generates at least a third of the local economic impact for Curry and Roosevelt counties. It is smart to protect that investment with another smart investment.

City commissioners will have the final say. We urge them to ask many questions and fine tune the details because this pending purchase could set a precedent for a parade of similar agreements over the next 10 years, perhaps longer.

One question we think about is whether a finite resource, groundwater from the diminishing Ogallala Aquifer, is reasonably priced at a proposed $1.86 million.

City Manager Joe Thomas said the number is tied to the value of dry farmland compared to irrigated farmland, since the farmer would maintain surface rights. Researching other water-rights transactions before finalizing a price makes sense.

Water quality, the cost of transporting the water to its final destination, and costs associated with the wells — including one that’s been permitted but not yet drilled — are other factors to be weighed carefully.

The agriculture community will be watching with anticipation, eyes on options beyond irrigation for use of the precious commodity.

Once due diligence has been completed and our best hopes are realized at a reasonable cost — with this property or another and many others to come — we can all feel better about raising future generations on these High Plains.

The use of agricultural water isn’t the only solution, as the mayor and many other leaders know. It is an interim step and such purchases will tie in nicely as the second phase of the Ute Water Pipeline Project construction begins in Curry County. Design work is 90 percent complete on that phase, which could take up to 10 years, but it will provide a way to divert and deliver groundwater to customers until the Ute Lake section can be funded and built beyond that time. Federal funds are being released that will provide some $2.3 million to pay for initial phase 2 work.

Up north at Ute Reservoir, construction of the intake structure is well under way, officials report. As more federal funds are lined up, expect to see work on that section of the pipeline take form over the coming decade. The water solution for our thirsty land will be a combination of sources, with Ute being the sustainable, renewable water source.