Draft study says Ute Lake can give up 18,800 acre-feet

By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

Two leaders of the Quay County opposition to the $600-million Ute Lake Pipeline Project indicated some disappointment Monday with draft results of a study they commissioned to determine how much water the lake could afford to give up.

The draft study results presented Monday to the Quay County Commission showed the lake could reliably surrender 18,800 acre-feet a year without affecting its wildlife and recreational value.

Ute Pipeline proponents estimate that more than 16,000 acre-feet would be siphoned from Ute Reservoir to the Ute Lake Pipeline to help alleviate projected shortages in Curry and Roosevelt counties, but the pipeline’s capacity is expected to be more than 24,000 acre-feet.

Zach Stein, an engineer for HDR, the Omaha-based engineering firm that conducted the study, said the new study’s  projections are based on readings of water levels, weather conditions, evaporation, silt build-up and other factors that have occurred since 1940.  Quay County communities, including Tucumcari, Logan, San Jon and Quay County government, pooled $50,000 to conduct the study.

The study that Ute Pipeline proponents rely upon was conducted in 1994, and Quay County interests say that study does not adequately account for the effects of severe drought that has plagued the area since 2001.  Despite the drought, Ute Pipeline advocates have stood firm on the validity of the 1994 study’s findings.

The 1994 study showed the lake could give up 22,000 acre-feet a year, about 17 percent more than the HDR study’s firm yield.

Tucumcari Mayor Robert Lumpkin suggested the new draft study’s results don’t give enough weight to current drought conditions.

“What if this drought doesn’t let up?” he asked.  “We don’t know what the weather will be like over the next 20 years.”

If the pipeline had been in operation during the drought years, he said, there would have been times the lake was nearly dry, and in most years, the pipeline would have lowered the lake’s elevation to below “minimum pool,” the level required to maintain wildlife and recreation.

Larry Wallin, Logan’s village manager said he does not think the new study adequately accounts for the build-up of silt at the lake bottom.  As silt builds up, he said the lake’s elevation must increase to assure it can hold the 193,000 acre feet of water it is authorized to contain.  That means the elevation required to assure a “minimum pool” for wildlife and recreation must also rise.

Lumpkin agreed.  The current “minimum pool” level of 3,741 feet above sea level might even have to rise as high as 3,756 feet to maintain the minimum pool as the silt accumulates.

“Our economy depends on Ute Lake,” Lumpkin said, citing the impact of fishing, boating and camping enthusiasts who visit the lake by the thousands in spring and summer.

He also said that he would hesitate to spend $600 million on a venture as risky as the Ute Lake Pipeline.

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