Water project may seek other funding

By Mike Linn

A member of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority believes there is a 50 percent chance the funding formula for the estimated $307 million Ute Water Project will change.
ENMRWA board member Catherine Haynes, who was in Washington, D.C., last week lobbying for federal funding of the project at 80 percent, said an attorney for U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told her projects federally funded at 80 percent or more are special cases.
“We know most projects of this kind are funded at a 50/50 match, and we know there are exceptions to the rule, and so we’ll probably be somewhere in the middle,” said Haynes, an alternate member of ENMRWA who fills in for Clovis Mayor David Lansford when he’s absent.
Her comments come after Domenici — chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee — told ENMRWA members he is not prepared to support funding the project now at 80 percent.
“He’s not going to look at it because he’s a budget man, and doesn’t think the money is there now,” Haynes said.
However, Haynes said U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., told ENMRWA members there will probably be a vote on the legislation during the spring.
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives a companion bill to the project authorization bill introduced by Bingaman in early June.
The federal government has only funded three water projects at more than 75 percent since 2000, according to Michael Connor, Democratic counsel to the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Bureau of Reclamation representative Miguel Rocha said most water projects funded at 80 percent or more by the federal government supply water to Indian reservations.
Rocha said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John W. Keys told ENMRWA members a project that is 65 percent federally funded would be more feasible.
ENMRWA members initially sought a funding formula that is 80 percent federally funded, 10 percent by the communities in Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties, and 10 percent by the state. The formula was based on South Dakota’s successful Lewis and Clark water project, which is funded at 80/10/10 split.
The Lewis and Clark 300-mile pipeline project costs about $360 million and services about 200,000 people.
The Ute Water Project — a projected 170 miles of pipeline — would service about 70,000 people, Haynes said.
If the federal government only funds 65 percent of the Ute project, that would mean the communities and the state would have to come up with an additional $46 million.
At Thursday’s Clovis City Commission meeting, Lansford said it’s important to get federal authorization before purchasing the water from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC).
But ENMRWA members already voted to send a letter to ISC seeking to sign a contract to begin buying the water at a graduated rate of payment.
The contract with ISC to reserve water for the Ute project ends in December of 2006, and ISC representative Doug Murray told ENMRWA board members the ISC will not negotiate to extend reservation of the water past that date.
He said the ISC has been approached by other communities wanting to buy the water rights.
Lansford said at Thursday’s meeting he would hate to pay for water that never leaves the lake, and the ENMRWA should get federal authorization before beginning to pay for the water.
In response to Domenici’s comments, Lansford said the senator is currently backing several water projects to be federally funded at 75 percent.
Domenici could run into problems if he sponsored 80 percent federal funding for the Ute Water Project and not the others, Lansford said.