Ute water project gets more funding

By Christina Calloway
Senior writer
ccalloway@pntonline.com

The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority continues to secure money for the Ute water project in small increments, but officials feel their case is getting stronger.

At Thursday’s meeting, pipeline Project Manager Paul van Gulick said the New Mexico Water Trust Board recently awarded a $3.2 million grant for the project, and the project was the highest ranking water project in the state.
“This is a big deal for us,” van Gulick said.

The progress authority members are making doesn’t stop at the state level. Members said meetings with their congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., have been positive. With former director of the Interstate Stream Commission Estevan Lopez moving to lead the federal Bureau of Reclamation, members say that’s another important person in their corner.

Portales Mayor Sharon King, vice chair of the authority, said Lopez has been supportive of the pipeline project.
King said the authority has raised about $40 million of the $550 million project cost so far. She hopes with the right people in place, more money will be coming at a faster rate.

The authority is also gearing up to hire its first employee. Members briefly discussed the job description for an executive director of the group.
Although the group approved renewal of its annual contract with Occam, the company van Gulick represents, King wants to make sure they are able to terminate it when they hire their executive director who would provide those same services.

Other highlights of Thursday’s meeting included:
• The authority’s approval of the Occam budget for the 2015 fiscal year. The $634,000 budget was approved on a 4-1 vote, with King voting against.
King said she was vocal in expressing the basic services provided by Occam, which are at a fixed rate, are too high.
“I think we should do hourly instead of a set fee,” King said.
She also said she wanted more explanations of certain line items.

• The authority approved an Open Meetings Act resolution, with four members voting in favor and King voting against.
King said she voted against the resolution because there was not an actual resolution available to look at.

• The authority discussed developing a water conservation plan in addition to the pipeline project.
Project engineer Barbara Crockett said the best way to create a plan is not to dictate to surrounding communities what they should do, but work together to promote conservation efforts.

“I think there could be some really good collaboration,” Crockett said. “…the authority can be good neighbors to promote conservation efforts.”