County may give Portales Ute water

Mike Linn

Roosevelt County officials are discussing the possibility of bowing out of the Ute Water pipeline project and allowing Portales to obtain its water rights — along with the hefty tab that follows.
County Administrator Charline Hardin told commissioners at Tuesday’s county meeting it would cost $72,000 annually for the county if and when the pipeline begins dispersing water through kitchen sinks and shower heads.
Moreover, the county does not have any customers for its water.
“Municipalities have water costumers and can increase their water rates and then they’re fine but a county doesn’t have one single water customer,” Hardin said.
“It’s not financially feasible to spend money on something we’re not going to utilize — we have enough problems with our budget. The city of Portales knows that so that’s why they said, ‘hey, let’s look at us purchasing your reservation’ so that they can utilize the water.”
If sold today the county would receive approximately $72,500 a year for the 100 acre feet of water; however, Commissioner Chad Davis discussed holding off on the possible sale to see if the water’s value would increase.
To that end Hardin told commissioners about a clause in the Ute Water project agreement that makes it difficult for an entity to bow out of the project after 2006, when a contract with the Interstate Streams Commission for the water will expire.
“They put some teeth in it so they want to make sure you’re serious,” Hardin said. “They want to make certain you’re going to be a player from here on out and not get in the ball game and say I can’t afford this and back out.”
Commissioner Tom Clark said it’s pointless to buy into a project without a use for the water.
“If we don’t have a plan and a use for (the water) why are we keeping it?” Clark asked.
Portales Public Works Director Tom Howell confirmed interest in the city obtaining the county’s water supply.
“I don’t know what their conditions were for the sale so I don’t want to get into committing that we’ll buy it or whatever because I don’t know what they are offering us, but we are interested in acquiring their water rights in the Ute — I think that’s a clear enough thing to say,” Howell said.
Howell said the city has about 333,000 acre feet of water reserved, which would cost the city about $2.1 million annually to disperse. Tack on an additional $72,500 a year if the city obtains the county’s 100-acre-foot supply.
Howell said if the $220 million Ute pipeline project comes to fruition, the cost to residents on water bills could be as high as double what they’re paying now.
Officials with the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority are seeking 80 percent funding from the federal government, 10 percent from the state and 10 percent from the entities the pipeline would supply with water.
The Ute water pipeline project would run water from Ute Lake to entities within Quay, Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
l Road department manager Jackie Grimes told commissioners he spent approximately $15,000 on emergency road repair, using funds earmarked to repair a railroad crossing off of Highway 84 between Melrose and Tolar.
The $15,000 had been donated by BNSF railroad.
“I don’t see how we can spend money in other places when it’s earmarked for something else,” Commissioner Gene Creighton said.
But Hardin and commissioners said the contract with the railroad company contained no deadline to fix the crossing.
Commissioners said they will in the future use money from another area to fix the railroad crossing.