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Funding in short supply for water projects

Construction crews work on a shaft for an intake structure on the south shore of Ute Lake near Logan, N.M. The shaft is the first phase of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority’s $550 million Ute pipeline project. The project is intended to bring billions of gallons of water each year to a drought-stricken section of eastern New Mexico.

ALBUQUERQUE – A pipeline project intended to bring billions of gallons of water a year to a drought-stricken section of eastern New Mexico represents a lifeline to parched communities that are quickly running out of water.

The lifeline, however, might not reach the region for more than a decade, even though officials say some areas don’t have that long before wells dry up.

The slow pace of construction in what would be the state’s most expensive infrastructure project to date underscores the challenges faced by a number of states eyeing such projects.

During the widespread drought, officials are struggling to finish large-scale water infrastructure projects while populations are growing, drinking water resources are dwindling, and federal dollars are diminishing.

The federal government is responsible for paying about $3 billion to complete several rural water projects around the country. The amount represents a fraction of the more than $600 billion needed to address the nation’s water and wastewater needs over the next 20 years.

That has left states and local water authorities scrambling to fill the financial void.

Of the many pipeline proposals in the West, one calls for moving water from four remote valleys in eastern Nevada to Las Vegas to reduce the region’s reliance on the Colorado River. Others call for piping water from Lake Powell to southeastern Utah and for taking water from Wyoming across Colorado’s Front Range and on to Denver.

In New Mexico, officials are desperate to head off the shrinking of the Ogallala aquifer, an underground supply of water that stretches through eight states.

“People are going to have to understand that in the West, that old saying ‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting’ – that’s where we are right now,” said Gayla Brumfield, chairwoman of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority.

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