Ute Reservoir is lowest cost option

Gayla Brumfield, guest columnist

The Ogallala Aquifer is an underground water source that runs from eastern new Mexico and the Texas Panhandle up to South Dakota.

It is one of the larger aquifers in the country and waters much of the nation’s richest agricultural areas.

The number of wells tapping into the Ogallala is steadily increasing just to keep up with demand, which in turn is draining the aquifer quickly.

In fact, the water levels of the Ogallala are declining at levels varying between 0.5 feet to 5.8 feet each year. Locally, we know of at least one well field with only 40 feet of water remaining that is declining at four feet a year.Gayla Brumfield

The Ogallala is eastern New Mexico’s only source of water. At the rates projected by Eastern New Mexico Water Authority, some areas will be virtually dry within the next decade.

There have been many strategies proposed to alleviate our water crisis.

For example, T. Boone Pickens purchased water rights in Roberts County in the northwest Texas Panhandle and formed his company, Mesa Inc., which became one of the largest holders of water rights in Texas.

Pickens started purchasing rights in the early 1990s and continued throughout the decade — much to the dismay of many of the adjacent landowners.

Before ultimately selling the rights to Canadian River Municipal Water Authority in 2011, Mesa Water tried to sell them to Dallas and San Antonio. However, the price would have been over $2 billion to deliver the water. Apparently, Dallas and San Antonio did not want to transport water from the Panhandle, and Panhandle officials did not want the water leaving the area, so the project did not happen.

Over the years prior to CRMWA’s purchase, there had been talk of importing water from Roberts County, Texas, to eastern New Mexico via Mesa Water Inc. But the costs for this type of project were too high and there were expected to be issues with transporting water across state lines.

Note that when CRMWA ultimately bought the water, it undertook a $250 million project to pump the water 60 miles. Three times as much pipeline would be needed to reach Clovis, which is 180 miles form Roberts County; pipeline costs would have been near $750 million. Then the water would still need to be piped further to the other eastern New Mexico communities.

That strategy was simply cost prohibitive.

Additional prohibitions could be seen through legal challenges due to the Texas Panhandle’s desire to keep the water. Plus, the water would still be coming from the same declining Ogallala Aquifer.

If something is not done soon, eastern New Mexico could experience a major water supply crisis. The purpose of ENMWUA is simple: provide a reliable and sustainable supply of water through a regional water system to eastern New Mexico.

After years of study and public debate, there remains the belief that the best solution is found in water located in the Ute Reservoir, which was built for this very purpose.

ENMWUA has evaluated and re-evaluated this source many times over 50 years and, in comparison to all other strategies that have been considered, the Ute Reservoir remains the lowest cost alternative.

Unlike the Ogallala, which will ultimately be exhausted, the water in the reservoir is replenished over time.

The intake facility is under construction now, and the next stage is for ENMWUA to finish the design and begin constructing the portion of the project that will connect all of the members. This will serve as the backbone to deliver an interim groundwater supply from irrigated farmers willing to sell water to ENMWUA members for municipal and industrial use.

The Ute Pipeline will ultimately provide a sustainable and reliable source that, if constructed quickly, could save eastern New Mexico from its water crisis.

Gayla Brumfield chairs the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority.
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