Ute water board questions old study

By Kevin Baird
CNJ staff writer

The future of the Ute pipeline project was called into question during Tuesday’s Ute Water Commission meeting, and doubts were raised regarding the reservoir’s ability to supply water for the pipeline.

Greg Yates, senior technologist of CH2M Hill, an engineering-procurement-construction company, said 20 years of data is missing since the Whipple Study, which covers 1943 to 1993. Recent drought and low in-flows of water into the reservoir located near Logan may impact the project, he said.

“I think it’s important before we move forward to get an update,” said Clovis Mayor David Lansford, who was elected chairman of the Ute Water Commission during the meeting Tuesday in Clovis.

But former Clovis Mayor and Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority Chairwoman Gayla Brumfield countered that the Ute Reservoir is “absolutely” a sustainable source of water and the Ute pipeline project will continue to move forward.

“I totally believe the pipeline is sustainable and definitely the way to go,” said Brumfield, in a phone conservation from Washington, D.C., where she said she was meeting with members of the Bureau of Reclamation and New Mexico’s Congressional delegation on the project.

She said there are three studies that conclude the Ute Reservoir is a sustainable water source.

The Ute Water Commission is comprised of member communities from Curry, Portales, and Quay counties who have contracted with the Interstate Stream Commission for reservation and purchase of water from the Ute Reservoir. It also oversees pricing of the water, according to commission member Sandy Chancey.

The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority is the agency that will construct and maintain the pipeline.

Lansford suggested the commission hire a research firm to collect new data on the reservoir’s sustainability.

Lansford said if new data shows the reservoir is not sustainable then there is no point in sinking millions of dollars into a project that cannot deliver water.

Measured at 121,000 acre feet on Sept. 10 by the U.S. Geological Survey, the reservoir is at 60.5 percent of its state-mandated capacity of 200,000 acre-feet.

The Ute pipeline would carry water from Ute Lake to Clovis, Portales and surrounding communities.

Lansford said if the Curry-Roosevelt area pulls out 24,000 acre-feet a year (the annual amount designated to the ENMWUA, and the reservoir continues to dry up at a rate of 16,000 acre-feet a year, the reservoir would be dry within three years.

“I think it’s important for the communities in eastern New Mexico to focus on developing more groundwater sources,” Lansford said.

Attorney David Richards advised the commission not to take action since there was no action item on the agenda, so the commission agreed to have another meeting Oct. 15, when it could take action to hire a company to conduct new research on the reservoir.

Gates made a rough estimate, and said a new research project would cost about $50,000.

Completion of the pipeline is 20 years out. Pipeline proponents say it is needed because the Ogallala Aquifer, the underground water source that supplies Curry and Roosevelt counties, is depleting.

The Whipple Study determined the firm annual yield, or how much water can be taken out of a reservoir without depleting it.

The report stated, “The firm annual yield for the reservoir is estimated to be in the range of 18,000 acre-feet to 22,500 acre-feet per year through 2045.”

The Whipple Study measured inflow (water coming into he reservoir), precipitation and evaporation among other things, according to Gates.

Gates said by 2043 the sediment built up in the lake, caused from incoming water slowing down and dropping sediment to the floor of the reservoir, and will begin to deplete at a rate of 900 to 1,000 acre-feet every year.

After the meeting, Gates said by contract the ISC can lower the amount of water the Curry-Roosevelt region receives every year if circumstances require it.

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