Senator’s visit focuses on water

By Tonya Fennell: Freedom Newspapers

U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., met with local officials Friday to discuss water issues.

Clovis was the end of the senator’s three-day trip to eastern New Mexico that included stops in Portales and Tucumcari.

Bingaman’s first Clovis stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant, where he was led on a guided tour by superintendent Durwood Billington and Public Works Director Harry Wang. The senator secured $250,000 for the plant in federal funds that will go toward the lagoon expansion project, which is expected to be completed on Sept. 15, according to Wang. The larger lagoon capacity is needed to accommodate effluent created by Southwest Cheese.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said the senator asked to tour the facility so he could familiarize himself with the project. On the tour, Bingaman learned that although the facility operates around the clock, it only requires an eight-hour shift of employees for maintenance purposes.

According to Billington, the facility is not a conventional plant because it uses extended air.

“This (extended air) gives better treatment of the water,” Wang said, “and takes better care of the nitrogen in the water.”

“It was very interesting to see the intricacies of this place,” Bingaman said.

Following the wastewater treatment plant tour, the senator attended a special Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority meeting. As the ranking minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bingaman has introduced legislation regarding funding for the $436 million Ute Water Project.

Project Manager Scott Verhines reported the Board of Reclamation, which serves as a review board for ENMRWA, has expressed concern over the project’s cost. The board has also suggested a more comprehensive look be taken at alternatives to the Ute Water Project and a deeper investigation of possible use of brackish, or somewhat salty, water.

“This (Ute Water project) is a good project,” Verhines said, “but now it is just a question of funding.”