Water group proposes ‘authority’ status

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

MELROSE — The recent federal bailout delayed the flow of federal authorization for the Ute Water Project, but supporters are optimistic their chances haven’t dried up.

Project Manager Scott Verhines said at Thursday’s meeting that an omnibus bill including the pipeline project and 155 other items is a top priority for the Senate during a lame-duck session two weeks after Election Day.

The bill was originally scheduled to come up in the most recent session of Congress, but the $700 billion financial rescue package took priority.

“Everything came to a screeching halt on the bailout,” Verhines said, noting that he and other consultants still made a scheduled trip to Washington, D.C. “We wanted them to know we still making efforts to push things through.”

Federal authorization is a key component in the project, which would construct a pipeline to distribute water from Ute Lake in Quay County to communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

The cost of the project, estimated at $432 million, would be funded 75 percent federally, 15 percent by the state and 10 percent locally.

The authority also looked at an action it would take following federal authorization — the formation of the group as a water utility authority.

The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority now acts more as a joint powers agreement, and authority status would allow for better rates on bonds.

In a rough draft of legislation presented Thursday, Verhines said the authority, if allowed by the state Legislature, would be created July 1 of the year following federal authorization.

Other suggestions made in the rough draft included:

• A seven-member board, with four members appointed by the Clovis City Commission, two appointed by the Portales City Council and one rotating member from the other entities. This structure, Verhines said, would give the smaller communities 14 percent of the vote even though they only control 4 percent of the reserved water at Ute Reservoir.

• A requirement of four votes for day-to-day actions, and five votes for long-term financial actions.

• The authority could also serve as a wastewater authority and/or control water distribution for any entity that requested it. Verhines said this was a feature created for the smaller entities that might not have the personnel to do so. In exchange, the water rate may be slightly higher for those communities.

Verhines asked members to view the rough draft, and bring back any modifications in a future meeting. The intent is to bring it up for Legislature approval, possibly in 2009.