Ute watershed meeting addresses water quality issues

The quality of the water at Ute Lake Reservoir where the first phase of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority’s $550 million Ute Pipeline Project, is scheduled to be completed by the end of March (above), was discussed at one of many meetings that will be used to create a Ute Reservoir watershed plan.

The quality of the water at Ute Lake Reservoir where
the first phase of the Eastern New Mexico Water
Utility Authority’s $550 million Ute Pipeline Project,
is scheduled to be completed by the end of March
(above), was discussed at one of many meetings
that will be used to create a Ute Reservoir watershed plan.

By Thomas Garcia

QCS Senior Writer

The Canadian River Riparian Restoration Project hosted a hearing on March 18 at the Tucumcari Convention Center that was one of many held in New Mexico as the state assembles a Ute Reservoir Wateshed Plan.

The CRRRP is listening to county, city and state officials, ranchers and others on water quality in the Reservoir and the rivers and streams that fill it.

“We want the input of everyone that has a stake in the quality of the water at Ute Lake and its use,” said Jack Chatfield, project manager for CRRRP, a consulting firm.

Chatfield said CRRRP is working with eight New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Districts in northeastern New Mexico and 21 state and federal agencies on the plan, which is designed to improve the entire Canadian River watershed area.

Ute Reservoir is part of the Canadian River Watershed, which spans 3,900 miles in six New Mexico counties, including Quay, Union and San Miguel.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city, county and state  officials and landowners attended and offered comments.

Chatfield and private consultant Mark Murphy, former Interstate Streams Commission project manager, gave a presentation on the purpose of a watershed plan at Ute Reservoir.

Murphy said the development and certification of a watershed plan would make federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency available to city, county and landowners along the Ute Reservoir. He said this funding could be used for improvements that would reduce runoff from grazing or irrigation into the waterways that feed the reservoir and for conservation measures  along the shore, such as eliminating water-guzzling salt cedar bushes.

“The whole purpose is to help those people who have a stake in the reservoir to have a source of funding available to help improve the water quality,” Chatfield said.

He said the plan would reflect their values and requirements for the water in Ute Reservoir.

Murphy said the a draft of the watershed plan should be ready by the end of the calendar year.

The watershed plan will focus on:
• Identifying impairments and pollutants and estimating load restrictions,
• Informing and educating all parties on the restrictions and pollutants,
• Creating management measures, developing a time line for implementing measures, and establishing performance criteria that must be met.
Murphy said with the plan in place, anyone along the reservoir or its tributaries will be able to submit their own grant to the EPA for funding to help manage pollutants in their area and reduce restrictions in the water flow.

Murphy said through sampling and data collection, authorities can determine levels of pollutants such as bacteria, sediment and herbicides that come from grazing, crop irrigation and natural vegetation.

One of the main goals of a watershed plan is to monitor and improve the quality of the water going into Ute Reservoir, said Richard Primrose, Quay County manager.

Primrose said it is impossible to completely stop sediment flow into the reservoir, but with the watershed plan, government and community agencies and landowners will be eligible for federal funding for projects  that will improve the quality of the water.

The county, the city of Tucumcari and the village of Logan have water rights at Ute Reservoir.

Murphy is involved in the watershed plan is through the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority.

The Authority’s primary project, the $550 million Ute Pipeline Project, is slated for completion in 20 years.  The project is expected to pump water from the Ute Reservoir to Clovis, Portales, Elida, Texico, Grady, Melrose, and other areas of Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Gayla Brumfield, the authority’s chair, said there is nothing more important to the authority than cooperating and working with Quay County communities to ensure water quality at Ute Reservoir.

One current issue with the reservoir may be salinity, said Larry Wallin, manager Village of Logan.

Wallin asked whether water salinity could be an issue, since water levels have changed drastically in the past several years.

Wallin asked, “With the inflow from the storms, has the salinity of the water increased in the reservoir? If so, will a continued increase in the levels change the way the water can be used?

Jared Langenegger, Tucumcari’s city manager, agreed, saying it would be beneficial to know if there is an increase in the salinity of the water at Ute Lake.

Langenegger said an increase in Ute Lake’s salinity could affect the city’s water rights and planned use for the water. He said this would include the type of treatment that may be needed to make the water drinkable.

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