New life for one of the West’s zombie water projects?

Ute Pipeline, map courtesy USBR

Ute Pipeline, map courtesy USBR

I have long assumed that the Eastern New Mexico Water Supply Project, also known as the Ute Pipeline, was one of those zombie water projects that never quite dies but will never be built, either. The idea is to build a pipeline from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission’s Ute Lake on the Canadian River to bring water to eight eastern New Mexico communities, the largest of which is Clovis. The ISC built the reservoir for just such a purpose, but the water users lack a pipeline to get water from reservoir to lake.

Like much in western water, the idea has been that the federal taxpayers will foot the bill. Of the current estimated $523 million cost for the pipeline, $393 million is supposed to come from the feds. Until today, I thought this year’s federal spending on the project was going to be $47,000, which is a rounding error in a $500 million project, and a sign that the feds are not really serious about building this, but are unwilling for political reasons to zero it out.

But today Reclamation threw another $700,000 into the pot for work on the pipeline in the current fiscal year. It’s part of $96.9 million in bonus money Congress gave Reclamation for western drought and rural water infrastructure. Here’s Estevan López’s statement that accompanied the spending plan Reclamation released today for the new money: “Reclamation and its partners are confronting a growing gap between supply and demand in river basins throughout the West,” López said. “The funding released today will help us meet immediate needs and support long-term infrastructure and environmental needs of key water projects.”

So I guess the Ute Pipeline is a key water project, though it’s worth noting the size of the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 request for the work: $47,000. At this rate, it’s gonna take a while.

More info:

addendum: Credit for the “zombie water project” name to Peter Gleick, I think. Denise Fort and Barry Nelson several years ago wrote a useful overview (pdf) a few years back that included a lot of projects of this sort.

One Comment

  1. Hey John, I had the opportunity to work on some of the environmental impact aspects of this proposed project. Hard to say much except that the water supply is not dependable and it will result in consistently and significantly lower lake levels in Ute Reservoir. Plus the seepage from the dam that feeds the stream below, which harbors the federally protected Arkansas River shiner, will decline once they start reducing reservoir level. The economics are questionable, but what else would you expect from the water buffaloes. One bad decision after another in NM, and now the BOR Commissioner comes home to roost. Sad day for intelligent water management thinking.

    Jim Brooks

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