Portales News-Tribune: Op-Ed: Sustainable water vital to area

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

Earlier this week was World Water Day. All of us in New Mexico recognize the vital importance of water. Access to adequate clean and affordable water means that cities in eastern New Mexico can bustle with activity, our farmers and ranchers can grow local food, and Cannon Air Force Base can continue to play a vital role in protecting our national security.

We have known for decades that pumping groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer is unsustainable. Over the years, water levels below Clovis, Portales, and surrounding communities have declined more than 100 feet. Even with conservation and efficiency measures, existing aquifer groundwater supplies will not meet the water needs of eastern New Mexico communities in the near future.

That’s why I have worked to increase federal funding for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, also known as the Ute Pipeline Project. The Federal Bureau of Reclamation recently announced a new $2 million investment in the project, which will fund continued construction of a pipeline to transport a new source of groundwater from the Ute Reservoir. This is the largest federal grant for the project to date.

The Ute Dam was built by the State of New Mexico on the Canadian River over 50 years ago. The reservoir was built to store water for irrigation and municipal use. This water, which is promised to the State as part of an agreement with Oklahoma and Texas, was always supposed to be used to provide a secure water source for eastern New Mexico.The Ute Pipeline Project will transport this water via pipeline to eight city and county member agencies, as well as Cannon Air Force Base, for municipal, commercial, and industrial use.

A sustainable water supply is absolutely essential to continuing operations at Cannon Air Force Base. Wing Commander Colonel Benjamin Maitre has strongly supported the project, as well as the interim groundwater project that is providing water to Cannon and surrounding communities until the pipeline is completed.

I voted to authorize the Ute Pipeline Project in 2009. Since then, the federal government, the State, and the local communities served by the project have each contributed millions of dollars to fund multi-phase design and construction of the project. The first phase of construction of the intake facility, which will pump water from the reservoir, is almost complete. Design of the pipeline that will connect Cannon and Clovis is finished, and the design for the connection to Portales is underway.

The Ute Pipeline Project requires a long-term vision and commitment. I will continue working to ensure that critical investments remain funded so that eastern New Mexico can depend on a reliable water supply for generations to come.