City officials commit to Ute Water Project

By Tony Parra

Mayor Orlando Ortega and city officials approved a Portales commitment to the Ute Water Project during Tuesday’s city meeting.
Ortega said senators and federal government officials have heard verbal commitments from eastern New Mexico communities but they do not have documentation of each community’s commitment.
Ortega advised city councilors to review water use analysis and financial options for the project during the week so they can have an agreement of how much water needs to be pumped into Portales and how to pay for the project.
Currently the city of Portales has an annual Ute Water reservation of 3,333-acre feet, which represents 68 percent of the current annual production of approximately 1.6 billion gallons of water pumped from water fields for Portales residents. The other 32 percent would be provided from water-well fields Portales already owns, according to Tom Howell, Portales public works director.
As for the cost, Portales officials would be obligated to pay approximately $49 million for all phases of full delivery of the Ute Water Project, according to the finance plan from Dain Rauscher financial analysts of Albuquerque. This would be if the federal government pays for 80 percent of the project cost and New Mexico pays for 10 percent of the project cost. The total cost of the Ute Water pipeline project is estimated at $282,334,800.
“Since 2000, three water projects have been funded 80 percent by the federal government,” Ortega said.
But federal officials have said in the past that 80-percent federal funding on pipeline projects is extremely rare.
In July, 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.
And U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John W. Keys said a Ute Water Project that is 65 percent federally funded would be more feasible.
Ortega said he can’t commit to more than the $49 million for the project if the federal government does not agree to pay for 80 percent of the cost.
“Our goal is to keep the 80-10-10 share,” Ortega said. “I don’t want to commit my community to more than the 80-10-10 setup. We feel confident we can do it (under the 80-10-10 share).”
Ortega said Melrose and Texico representatives have passed water-rate increases and Clovis representatives have passed an economic development tax to support the 10 percent. Ortega said the project will take eight years to complete.
“The major concern from city councilors was that we are not committed to a blank check if the federal government doesn’t match the 80 percent,” City Manager Debi Lee said.