Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Commissioners must ensure 'due diligence'

Clovis city commissioners on Thursday will consider purchasing water rights from a private landowner at a cost of nearly $2 million.

The Economic Development Tax Advisory Board has recommended the deal with farmer J.L. Wall be approved.

Stockpiling water for future use is a sound concept, but city commissioners must wade into this cautiously, ensuring — here it comes — “due diligence.”

That means, according to Merriam-Webster:

• “the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or their property.”

Taxpayers, in this case, represent the “other persons,” as we learned last year when we lost — ironically — about $2 million in the Beauty Health and Science Innovations debacle.

If the city learned anything from BHSI, which failed to open a cosmetics manufacturing plant as promised, it was the need to investigate claims and promises and the importance of protecting taxpayers’ investments in writing.

Some of the commissioners who will make the decision on the proposed water purchase are in office because of their stated outrage at the BHSI mistakes.

Thursday’s meeting will go a long way to determining if they are more responsible than previous elected officials at ensuring “due diligence.”

Here are some questions they should at least ask — publicly so answers can be heard and recorded in the public record — before making their decision:

• If we pumped out all the water that’s in this 930-acre field today and put it in a giant swimming pool, about how much water would there be?

• If we buy it today and let it sit for 10 years, will we have the same amount of water as today? More? Less? How do we know?

• How long could this water field independently sustain life at Cannon Air Force Base, its stated benefactor?

• How is the price determined? City Manager Joe Thomas said little research has been done comparing purchases of area water rights. Why not? Or is there no data to research?

• Commissioner Tom Martin said he thinks $2 million is a pretty cheap “insurance policy to keep Cannon.” But it’s not really an insurance policy. There is no guarantee Cannon will remain outside Clovis if the city ensures a future water supply. There’s not even a guarantee the water field would be used for Cannon — future elected officials may find a more urgent use for it. Shouldn’t somebody put something in writing to show more than good intentions?

• While this may seem far-fetched to government officials, should we maybe also consider the possibility that private business might continue to step up and provide water for Clovis? There is, after all, money to be made selling water as EPCOR does now. Not all taxpayers expect government to provide. Most taxpayers have little confidence it can.

There are no easy answers about water and our future. But commissioners have a responsibility to ask as many questions as possible, insist on answers whenever possible, and base this important decision on that information.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis News Journal’s editorial board, which consists of Editor David Stevens. All other views expressed on this page are those of their authors.