Entities discuss Ute Water Project at public meeting

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

County officials, farmers and residents identified their top alternative water plans Wednesday evening during a public meeting organized by an Albuquerque based engineering and water resource consulting firm, Daniel B. Stephens & Associates, Inc.

Though only eight of the original 11 entities remain committed, the Ute Pipeline — a $300 million project which officials say would supply communities in eastern New Mexico with water from Ute Reservoir near Logan in Quay County — was among the most popular of water development plans. Attendants also strongly supported agricultural water conservation, metering agricultural water use, and water reuse.

The informal survey of water alternatives comes at the helm of a shrinking Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer is projected to dwindle to less than 50 feet in depth in the next 15 years, according to Daniel B. Stephens associates. When it reaches 30 feet, the aquifer will no longer be considered a viable water resource, according to the firm.

Though wheat farmer Wesley Myers adamantly defends his ownership of the water below his property, he said farmers and ranchers are “just as concerned, if not more concerned, about the aquifer than anyone, because that’s our livelihood.” He said farmers and ranchers have firsthand knowledge of underground water levels.

But there no easy solutions to area water needs, Myers said.

The five counties which comprise Northeast New Mexico Water Region — Curry, Roosevelt, Quay, Harding, and Union — hired Daniel B. Stephens & Associates, Inc. to help develop a state requested water plan.

“Our objective is to provide information and obtain public input on water project plans,” said Daniel B. Stephens associate Janet Wolfe.

The firm will present the region’s most popular water plans to a regional steering committee Nov. 17, according to Daniel B. Stephens hydrologist and project assistant manager Amy Ewing.

Ewing said the top 10 alternatives will be developed in-depth by the company, Ewing said.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of four public meetings the firm will host in northeast counties.