Lansford leaves water authority, likely to return

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

With his mayoral term set to expire next week, members of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority said goodbye to Chairman David Lansford. That goodbye probably won’t last long.

In Lansford’s final meeting of the authority as Clovis mayor, the authority discussed upcoming hearings and acquiring funding for the Ute Water Project, a $432 million endeavor to build a pipeline from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to eight eastern New Mexico entities.

Lansford, who decided not to seek a fourth mayoral term, may still be on the authority by the time it gathers for its monthly meeting in March. Clovis Mayor Pro-Tem Randy Crowder, seeking re-election as a Clovis City Commissioner, has said he wants to appoint Lansford onto the authority as Clovis’ representative.

The project has not yet been introduced for authorization by Congress, but staff from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said such legislation should be coming in the next few weeks, and certainly before April 17. That’s the date of a planned hearing from the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman chairs, on large water projects.

“He wanted to make sure we weren’t discouraged by (the lack of an authorization bill so far), and that’s why they set the date for this hearing,” said John Ryan, a consultant for the project’s federal component.

Ryan said he and other authority members are planning a March trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the New Mexico delegation.

“We are hopeful this project, and other water projects, are not the kinds of things that get caught up in politics,” Ryan said.
The project would be a funding combination of 75 percent federal, 15 percent state and 10 percent local.

The level of state support for the project was still up in the air, because of a pair of bills on Gov. Bill Richardson’s desk, Project Manager Scott Verhines said. That includes a $230,000 capital outlay amount from Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, and Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, and $36 million fromthe state’s water trust board to be apportioned to the Ute Water Project and 57 other state water projects.

In other business at the meeting:

Kevin Powers of RBC Capital Markets in Albuquerque said the authority would save itself money in the long term by raising $1 million to have for down payment purposes on possible loans for the project’s construction costs. The money would get better bond rates and save money in the long term, Powers said.

That money works out to about 19.4 cents per 1,000 gallons of water reserved by the authority members. Powers said each member could determine its way to raise money, and Crowder said Clovis would take care of its part with a 1/8 percent gross receipts tax already in place.

Clovis’ share would be about $747,000, while a smaller community such as Elida would be responsible for $3,000.
Portales Mayor and water authority Vice Chairman Orlando Ortega suggested each member could put money in interest-bearing accounts.

“It’s much easier to sell when you say it’s going to stay in an area for that purpose … rather than saying it’s going to get spent and that’s the last you’ll see of it,” Ortega said.

l Ute Dam Manager Kent Terry said the reservoir’s water level is at 176,826 acre feet, or 87 percent capacity.