Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Checkup: Ute pipeline project

Gayla Brumfield chairs the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority, a consortium of communities charged with completing the estimated $550 million Ute Water Project.

The project is largely a massive 88-mile pipe that will draw water from the Ute lake reservoir in Quay County and pump it to each of the eight authority member communities — Clovis, Grady, Elida, Melrose, Portales and Texico; and Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Maybe you could update us on the project ... Where are we at and where are we headed?

The first phase of the intake structure, we started that about a year ago, 18 months ago, something like that. It’s just about finished. We’re looking at probably that part being finished sometime in October.

That’s the first phase of the intake structure that actually puts the straw into the lake. When we get the rest of the pipeline built then it will actually be hooked on. That is what will bring the water.

That was about ... $15 million.

When can we expect construction to begin on the interim pipeline?

We are looking at different funding options right now. We hope to have it, and I’m not saying that it will be, but our goal is to have it shovel ready to start the first phase within about 18 months.

The interim is the backbone of the project. It’s the part that’s going to be down here in Curry County and goes down to Roosevelt County. The reason we’re going that direction is because we will have instant utility. That’s our plan.

The design is done. Now we’ve got to make sure ... we’re looking at different funding options. We’re working on some year-end money from the federal government (Bureau of Reclamation) and we’re looking at bonding, bonding capacities (of member communities).

To really put the pipeline from the (Cannon Air Force) base down to Portales is about $20 million, I believe.

You said bonding capacity. Do you mean tax bonds?

Well no, it would be actual bonding like you do ... like to get money for a street. You have to have recurring income to do that so something like the member contributions, because we get that yearly, that would help pay back the loan on getting a bond set up.

That’s just one option of what we’re looking at.

The interim pipeline, what’s the estimate to complete it once it begins?

I would think two to three years for the first phase.If the funding and all that came in, I would think we could get .... the whole pipeline, the interim part ... I think it could be done in eight years.

The cost of that?

That is I believe around $80 million.

How much water do we have left in the aquifer? Is there any real danger of it being drained in the next 10 to 15 years?

The studies that I have seen never say that the entire aquifer will be totally drained.From what we see and what we say is ... yes, we are in a dire situation. All the studies that I’ve seen, including the Trinity Report, said that there’s different time frames for an impacting of the aquifer.

The aquifer is, and I’m no water expert ... there’s always little pockets of the aquifer. Some people north of (Clovis) have a lot better water than what’s going on south of town.

It just kind of depends on the area. In my view, the total aquifer will never be completely just drained. There is a depletion going on with the aquifer that concerned people even 40 years ago. That’s why they looked at a sustainable piece, which would be the Ute project piece. So knowing that there was going to be depletion, then they tried to figure out what we can do to help resolve that.

As far as it really being quote “drained,” I think that the studies that I’ve seen it just says that the aquifer will be impacted. Portales’ study shows that within 13 or 15 years their well field will be impacted.

Really the most cost effective and the most sustainable piece is the Ute. You’re always going to have to blend it. Every study will tell you .... you do blend that with groundwater.

You’ve said that purchasing water from ag producers, farmers in this area, has always been a part of the Ute Water Project. Why hasn’t the water utility authority done that?

It’s simple. That’s not our job.

When the state created the authority our mission is clear. It says ... we are the authority for the Ute Water Project and we are to build the pipeline.

It is not really our mission or within what we are supposed to do to go out an actually buy the water rights. For it to really make a huge difference in Curry County and Roosevelt County you would have to buy a lot of water rights. I mean hundreds of thousands of acres of water rights.

That’s not going to happen. Because our ag community, they’re a huge part of our economy. They’ve been here ... that and the railroad is what started Clovis and Curry County and Roosevelt County.

They’re our way of life, agriculture is. So we can’t just say, you know, they’re going to go away. I think they’re going to have to be a lot more efficient and work on conservation measures, which I think that a lot of them do. But our mission and our goal is to work on getting the Ute project finished. That’s it.

Now our thinking was that ...after we put in the interim pipeline, that we would work with the ag producers. We could lease their water.

What makes you so confident the federal government is going to fund this thing?

Because they have authorized the project. When they authorize a project, that means that they believe it is a worthy thing to do and that they have actually said, OK. We see that this is needed so we’ve authorized it. So now we’re going to have to fund it.

I’m very confident that we’re going to get the funding. But the past probably four or five years, it’s been tough because of the climate up in D.C.

Since that time I believe we’ve received about $7 million or $8 million.

We’re waiting right now to see what the year end’s going to bring. We’ve been told there’s some year-end money that we believe we can get.

This year-end money, any estimates on how much might be available?

It’s anywhere ... from what we’ve been told ... between $1 million and $5 million.

— Compiled by Projects Editor Robin Fornoff