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May 6, 2016
Massive, Historic New Mexico Water Project Gets More Money; Next Phase of Work Anticipated
For Wesley Shafer it’s been a long wait—and there’s still more waiting to do.
“I think the pipeline will probably get here in about 8 or 9 years,” he remarks with a laugh. “So we still have a ways to go yet.”
But the fact that a new supply of water may someday be available in the village of Grady, New Mexico is good news, no matter what.
“We get our water right now from the wells,” says Shafer, who is the mayor of Grady, which is in eastern New Mexico not far from the border with Texas, and has a population of just over 100 people.
“And as long as our wells are good, we’re ok,” he adds.
But supporters and organizers touting the need for the more than $500 million Ute Water Project, which will build a water pipeline from the Ute Reservoir to communities like Grady, say there is no guarantee that the current sources of water in the area will last forever.
“When people ask, ‘How do you stick with a project this big?’ the answer is that, honestly, we don’t have any choice,” says Gayla Brumfield, the chair of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority (ENMWUA), which is tasked with seeing the completion of the long-planned project.
“Our water situation here is to the point that our ground water is depleting and there is not any recharge,” says Brumfield. “So we have to stick with it because the pipeline is going to be our only source of a sustainable water supply.”
Talked about for years, the Ute Water Project was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
Initial funding has so far fallen short of the total estimated cost of the project, which today is thought to be around $550 million.
The funding that has come in is made up of federal, State of New Mexico and local support, with the most recent allotment, $2.7 million, coming as a grant through the Bureau of Reclamation.
“That money will go to the construction on a phase of what we call the interim ground water project,” says Justin Howalt, the executive director of ENMWUA.
“We’ve got three design packages of the interim ground water work and we’ll break those down into smaller packages to align with available construction dollars,” continues Howalt.
If hundreds of millions to build the project defy imagination, that’s because the Ute Water Project itself pushes imagination’s boundaries.
Altogether, what is being described as the most expensive public infrastructure project in New Mexico history will see the building of around 150 miles of conveyance pipes, designed to move Ute Reservoir water in the northeastern part of the state to the Cannon Air Force Base and the communities of Clovis, Elida, Grady, Melrose, Portales, and Texico.
The project includes the building of a raw water intake structure and pump station at the Ute Reservoir; a booster pump station and a 1 million-gallon storage tank in Quay County; a water treatment plant, also in Quay County; and a pump station in Roosevelt County, among other features.
“We have already started construction on the intake structure up at the reservoir. The first phase of that is completed,” says Howalt of work that saw the building of a 90 foot-deep shaft, 50 feet in diameter.
INTAKE BENCH BLAST, COURTESY ENMWUA.
That work also included the installation a 60-inch diameter, 250 foot-long intake tunnel, as well as intake screening weighing 10,000 pounds with a surface area of 400 square feet, used to filter out debris
Next up is work on the pipeline itself, which will be built in four phases.
The first phase will see construction of the pipeline directly to Cannon Air Force Base and Clovis. The second phase will take the pipeline to Portales, with the third phase going to smaller entities in the project’s target range.
The last, much-anticipated phase will see the construction of a pipeline heading back to the Ute Reservoir.
“It’s been a project that there has been a lot of talk about for a long time” concedes Brumfield. “But as we see the federal funds start to come in more and quicker, work on it will pick up.”
Brumfield adds that even though the project is massive and slow-moving, “It is not going to go on for the rest of our lives. There will someday be an end point. We just have to stick with it to get there.”