Officials: Federal funding a necessity for Ute project

Jack King

TEXICO — The board of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority is continuing to make preparations to request federal funding for the Ute Water Project early next year, a process known as “seeking authorization.”
Cost of the project is estimated at $250 million and the board is seeking 80 percent of that from the federal government. An authorization request is expected to go before Congress in January or February.
But the board continues to struggle to find money to fund its activities.
At its monthly meeting Wednesday in Texico, the board approved two proposals that Program Manager Scott Verhines said would help in presentations to the U.S. Senate:
• a proposal that Dornbusch Associates of Phoenix, Ariz., an economics consulting firm, carry out a detailed water rate, and willingness and ability to pay, study, working with each community in the water authority, at a cost of up to $25,000;
• a proposal that a review team of six engineers carry out a peer review of the project’s conceptual design report; Michael Connor, Democratic counsel to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, suggested such a review when he spoke to the board in August; it would cost approximately $27,900, Verhines said.
But the authority does not have the funds to pay for the studies, and board members Bill Holden of Logan and Calvin Litchfield of Tucumcari said they object to entering into contracts before the money to pay for them is at hand.
Clovis Mayor and ENMRWA board president David Lansford said a September 2002 to December 2004 contract between the Ute Water Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation provides enough money to pay for the contracts and other board expenses. But the contract is administered by the Eastern Plains Council of Governments. Lansford said he has not been successful in getting EPCOG Executive Director Lee Tillman to attend an ENMRWA meeting to discuss the matter.
“I just have other responsibilities and my schedule has made it difficult to make (the authority’s) last two or three meetings,” Tillman said Wednesday. “But, I’m certainly available to the mayor and we’re certainly willing to do whatever it takes to get the project done and to support the water authority.”
Darrell Bostwick, a board member of both the ENMRWA and the Ute Water Commission, said since the contract actually is with the Ute Water Commission, he will call a meeting of the commission’s board to discuss the contract. The meeting will be Oct. 30 in Grady, commission members at the meeting said.
A second contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, for which the city of Clovis is the fiscal agent, is scheduled to be signed Dec. 15, but cannot be used to pay for expenses incurred prior to its signing, Lansford said.
Verhines said ENMRWA board members should prepare to attend a meeting of the state Water Trust Board Nov. 3 in Santa Fe to explain their project. Also, trust board members will be invited to see Ute Lake and further discuss the project at the board’s meeting in Logan in November.
In other business, Vehines said he has created a Web site for the authority that can be viewed at www.enmrwa.com.
Doug Murray, of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, said his staff has begun a pre-NEPA study of the Canadian River, including a survey of fish populations and the river’s physical characteristics. The full study of the river, required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), will not begin until the Ute Water Project receives federal authorization, he said.