Lawmakers support water funding

David Arkin

Area lawmakers on Wednesday morning gave local leaders their blessing to push forward with a major water project that’s expected to have a profound impact on eastern New Mexico.
Two local mayors — Clovis’ David Lansford and Portales’ Orlando Ortega — briefed area lawmakers on the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, also referred to as the Ute Water Pipeline Project, in Santa Fe on Wednesday. The project would benefit cities across a wide plain of eastern New Mexico, including those in Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties.
“The legislators all said they were very much in support of the project and they said they wanted to do what they could do to ensure that the state’s portion of the project is funded,” Lansford said.
Officials told lawmakers that they had completed the conceptual design for the project and had peer reviews of that design scrutinized by two engineering firms.
“Basically they wanted to know where we are on the project and how we were going to be funding it,” Ortega said. “All of our legislators are very up to par on what’s going on and they want to stay informed and make sure that we keep the public informed.”
The project — expected to cost $300 million — would be funded through federal, state and local resources. But a huge chunk — 80 percent — would come from the feds. Inflation could increase the total figure.
Lansford said he expected a bill, which would include state funding for the project, would be voted on this session.
Rep. Earlene Robert, R-Lovington, said the money for the water project is packaged with a variety of other projects that would be funded through the New Mexico Finance Oversight Committee.
“Normally there is no problem with the projects because they are all needed,” she said.
Lawmakers will ask for $30 million, which will be spread out over a 10-year period for the project. Any approved funding for the project would be directed through the Water Trust Board.
Lansford said he was hopeful the project would get the needed support.
“We have the support of the governor for this project,” he said. “We’ve seen tremendous support for this over the last 12-18 months.”
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said lawmakers are aware of the need for the project.
“Money is always a big concern and people talk about the money for this,” she said. “It’s a lot to grasp and money is a concern for every project.”
All of the needed studies and reports for the project have been completed over the last several months, Lansford said.
“We are now in a position to move forward with this project,” he said.
While local officials should know sometime in the next month what the financial future of the project looks like at the state level, a ruling on the federal funds is still probably several months away.
Officials expect New Mexico congressmen to introduce a bill that would include $240 million in federal funds sometime in the next three to four weeks, Lansford said.
The funds, just like the state money, would be spread out over a 10-year period.
“Hopefully by the end of the year it will be passed through the House and Senate and the president will sign it,” Lansford said.
The federal money would come through the Federal Bureau of Reclamation.
Lansford said he sees the project as a major need for the area.
“One of the things that separates our ground water supply from the Ute is that it’s a renewable source of water,” he said. “It has a life expectancy of 100-200 years.”
Roberts, whose district includes Roosevelt County, heard Wednesday’s briefing and said she was impressed with the plan.
“Certainly, I think those involved have done their homework,” she said. “They have addressed all of the questions that have come from the public and it looks like this project will occur and everyone is pushing toward that.”
Roberts said she looks forward to helping cities and counties with the project.
“We will just be another checker in the process,” she said. “We’re just another player. We will keep pushing this project forward.”