June 17, 2008

Ute Water Project Faces U.S. House Vote

By Gabriel Monte, Clovis News Journal, N.M.

Jun. 17--Local and federal government officials are optimistic the U.S. House will pass a bill Wednesday authorizing $327 million in federal funding for the Ute Water Project.

The House is scheduled to deliberate on the bill late in the afternoon, according to Sam Simon, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

"It seems to have strong support in the Senate, it did very well in the committee so we're pretty optimistic that it will go through Congress," said Simon about a similar bill that went through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources but has not been scheduled yet for deliberation on the Senate floor.

Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority Chairman David Lansford said this is the farthest legislation concerning the Ute Water Project has gone in any branch of Congress.

The pipeline that would pump water from the Ute Lake Reservoir to eight eastern New Mexico entities.

"We're really very optimistic about what's taking place and what the possibilities are for both the House and the Senate to approve the authorization bills," he said.

If the bill passes the House, it will go through another deliberation in the Senate. If the Senate passes it, the bill will go to the President, who could sign it into law.

The bill authorizes the federal government to pay for 75 percent of the $437 million project over 10 years. State and local governments will pay 15 percent and 10 percent of the project's cost respectively.

Portales City Manager Debi Lee said the bill's progress is a step closer to securing a sustainable water supply for communities in eastern New Mexico.

"It's a big project for a small population of people but it's incredibly important to us," she said. "It really is the future of our water and our ability to sustain our communities with a water supply."

However, failure of the bill in either branch of Congress will not stop the project from moving forward, Lansford said

"We've got to build it, it's not a luxury, it's a necessity, it's imperative," he said. "If any of the bills fail, that doesn't mean that we're going to go away. We're going to be persistent and continue to strive to fully develop this project, one way or another."


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