Public gets closer look at Ute Water Project

By Tony Parra

An Albuquerque engineering firm has looked at all of the alternatives for a renewable, cost-effective water source in eastern New Mexico and they have determined the Ute Water Pipeline Project to be the best option.

CH2M Hill presented its findings during a public involvement meeting in the Memorial Building in Portales on Tuesday evening sponsored by the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority.

Ute Project Manager Scott Verhines said the study was one of the requirements by U.S. government representatives if ENMRWA members wants federal funding.

“Stay active, contact your area legislators,” said John D’Antonio, New Mexico state engineer. “There’s strength in numbers. There will be a project for this community.”

ENMRWA is also sponsoring informational meetings this month in Clovis, Texico and Melrose this month. The members are hoping to receive feedback and ideas from community members to use as a tool in presentations requesting funding from the federal government for the project.

The Ute pipeline project would supply water from Ute Lake to communities in eastern New Mexico for municipal and industrial purposes.

The original water authority plan called for the federal government to fund 80 percent of costs and New Mexico and ENMRWA 10 percent each.

Under that proposal, Clovis would have had to pay about $11.6 million and Portales $4.6 million based on a 2003 cost analysis.

However, since then, four entities in the Quay County area — San Jon, Logan, Quay County and the City of Tucumcari.
Verhines said the cost of the Ute Water pipeline, if they were to go out and build it today, would be a total of $358 million. He said there has been an increase in construction costs of 20 percent over the last two years because of the demand for construction materials.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford said because of the Quay County entities dropping out, it has also caused added expenses for Portales and Clovis, along with the other six entities. Clovis would be responsible for 72 percent of the locally funded portion of the project which is $25.2 million. Portales’ portion would be $8 million.

The continuing increase in costs are why Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega and Verhines feel time is of the essence and why there’s a need to start construction as soon as possible.

Brock McEwen, vice president of CH2M Hill, said the quality of the Ute water is as good as the groundwater in Clovis and Portales.

Political leaders in Clovis and Portales said a water-rate increase is inevitable. Verhines said, for example, with the Ute Water Project, the water rates for Portales would go up from $15 a month for 6,000-gallon water use to $25 to $28 per month by the year 2042. Other alternatives, such as using brackish water, which is located below the Ogallala Aquifer would be more expensive.

Walter Hines, CH2M Hill senior engineer, said groundwater is not a sustainable water source and the area would run out of groundwater within 50 years, according to water-use estimates.