Water officials add more to Ute project

Jack King

MELROSE — The board of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority voted Wednesday to add three more construction efforts to the Ute Water Project, raising the cost of the project by $10 million.
The additions bring the total construction cost of the project to $263 million, said ENMRWA Project Manager Scott Verhines.
The three efforts are:
l a sewer system for the village of Logan, for $6 million.
l a remodeled wastewater treatment system for Tucumcari, for $2 million.
l a proposed “energy recovery project,” actually a small hydroelectric plant, near Portales, for $2 million.
Doug Murray, a project manager with the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, said the ISC favors adding the efforts to the Ute Water Project, because the sewer and treatment systems would help protect Ute Lake water from contamination.
Under terms of the federal authorization bill for which the ENMRWA is lobbying the U.S. Congress, the federal government could pay 80 percent of the cost of the sewer and treatment systems. Board members Richard Primrose, of Tucumcari, and Larry Wallin, of Logan, said they were delighted to get help funding the projects.
“Eighty percent (help on the project) is more than we ever thought we’d get,” Wallin said.
But, Verhines said getting the money depends on whether the project receives authorization.
“This is potentially a real benefit to Logan and Tucumcari, but nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “We don’t know when the project will be authorized and we don’t know if it will be authorized at 80 percent.”
He said board members probably will know by the end of the year if the Ute Water Project will get federal authorization this Congressional session.
Verhines also said the federal money would not pay expenses retroactively, meaning if parts of the two systems already have been paid for when the Ute Water Project is authorized the federal money would not reimburse the towns for those parts.
Wallin and Primrose said their towns will continue to work on their projects and look for funding, while waiting to see if the project funds will be available.
“Whichever is the best deal at that time,” Wallin said.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said the energy recover project could collect energy from project water, then sell that energy to help defray project costs. But, he added that board members need to research whether there is a market for the power.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford said he believes power wholesalers, such as Xcel or PNM, are required to by energy generated by alternative sources.
In other business, Verhines reported on a trip to Washington to discuss the authorization legislation with members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation. He said he has given a draft of the proposed legislation to each board member. The board will hold a special meeting March 31 to discuss members’ comments, before the draft is sent back to Washington.
Verhines asked that a delegation from the ENMRWA attend a meeting in Santa Fe on Friday of the state Finance Authority Board, when the board will consider ratifying $2 million already approved by the state Water Trust Board for the authority. He said it is particularly important that representatives from Clovis attend the meeting, because Clovis will be the fiscal agent for the money.
Representatives from Union, Harding, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties met in Melrose after the ENMRWA meeting in the first step toward developing a regional water plan for the northeastern part of the state.