PORTALES — Less than four weeks from now, the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority could have a new project manager, paving the way for its current one to officially take over as the state’s new engineer.
It was business as usual for the authority during its regular meeting Thursday morning at the Yam Theater, but much time was also dedicated to congratulating Program Manager Scott Verhines on being appointed to the state engineer office by Gov. Susana Martinez.
“I’ve received congratulations and condolences,” Verhines said, “in the same sentence.”
Verhines’ 12 years with the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, also known as the Ute Water Project, should conclude sometime in December.
He said between the time he agreed to take the position and Thursday, he had searched for a potential replacement to keep momentum for the project going. He brought the authority members a resume for Paul van Gulick, an engineer who currently lives in Ruidoso Downs.
Van Gulick was not at the meeting, but has familiarity with the project. He collected water system information from authority members, co-authored a data collection summary report and conceptual design report in 2000 and designed much of the project infrastructure.
The project would pump water from the Ute Reservoir in Quay County to authority members as a long-term potable water source.
Verhines said if the authority was inclined, it could replace him with van Gulick in the authority’s contract and leave everything else untouched. Verhines’ contract runs through June 30, 2012.
“To me,” Verhines said, “that was hands down the best result I could have asked for. It’s always your prerogative to go out on the street and find a new program manager. I’d ask you to at least consider this plan.”
Authority members who have met with van Gulick were on board.
“It is critical we keep the continuity,” Brumfield said. “I don’t think we miss a beat this way; there are too many things going on to miss a beat.”
The authority will make a decision on filling Verhines’ slot at its next meeting, set for 10 a.m. Dec. 13 in Melrose.
Verhines will enter his new position sometime after his successor is chosen. He said Martinez has given him ample time to take care of loose ends with the water project and other duties, and Interstate Stream Commission Director Estevan Lopez will handle day-to-day operations until Verhines arrives.
“They want me to report as soon as possible,” Verhines said, “but they also said, ‘We understand how important the pieces are.’”
Also at the meeting:
• Following a 40-minute executive session, the authority voted to condemn a lot near where it plans to build its intake structure.
Verhines said the authority has been negotiating with the lot owners, Tim and Melissa Chow of Amarillo. He said the owners have an asking price much greater than the appraisal value, and the authority is possibly using eminent domain — a power it received in the 2010 legislative session when it was transformed to a utility authority.
“We did not want to go down this path,” Verhines said. “They can decide to enter negotiations again at any time.”
Contact information for the Chows could not be located.
• Federal coordinator John Ryan said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., was considering adding the water project to a military spending bill next year as a water source for Cannon Air Force Base. The move could create a military spending component for the project.
Also, Ryan said, the Senate is attempting to put $21 million into the Bureau of Reclamation budget above recommendations by President Obama. The move is being supported by seven rural water projects, including the ENMRWS.
“In the absence of earmarks for individual projects,” Ryan said, “this is the best we can do.”
• Mark Murphy of the Interstate Streams Commission said a steering group is working on a drought management plan for Ute Reservoir and should be finished well in advance of its June 30 deadline.
He said the committee is looking at similar projects in Texas, which like Ute Reservoir have multiple users and have withstood extreme drought conditions.
• Reservoir Dam Manager Kent Terry said drought conditions have hurt the water levels, which have dropped from 3,782.4 feet on Jan. 1 to 3,777.45 feet on Wednesday.
The water lost, mainly due to evaporation, totals 30,456 acre feet or 9.9 billion gallons.
The dam currently holds 152,801 acre feet, or 49.8 billion gallons, of water.