By Leota Harriman

Torrance County funded the EMWT Regional Water Project with $10,000 and indications that more would be forthcoming last week at its regular commission meeting.

EMWT—which stands for Estancia, Moriarty, Willard and Torrance—is a fledgling non-profit water project, which aims to connect the communities along N.M. 41 with a water system which would use rights of way owned by EMW Gas Association.

EMW Gas is a quasi-municipal organization, also a non-profit, that provides natural gas in the Torrance County area and into the Edgewood area.

EMWT would eventually link the communities into a regional water system, with the first phase running from Willard to Moriarty. “The first area we’re going to take on is McIntosh,” said EMWT board president Art Swenka. He said that first phase would cost $19 million.

Efforts so far have largely been in planning, and seeking funding. Swenka said that municipalities which have signed into the joint powers agreement, or JPA, creating the organization, plus Torrance County, have already contributed funding twice.

Commission chair LeRoy Candelaria said he had been to several of the organization’s meetings, and pointed out the large number of wells in Torrance County, which Swenka said is over 8,000.

If we have this water line in place, places like maybe McIntosh would be able to supply water to those people instead of digging a well—you have to go deeper and deeper,” Candelaria said. “Water is becoming critical. We have to watch every bit of water we have.”

Swenka said EMWT has also gotten a grant from the state’s water trust board and is “working every angle we can work to make this happen.”

While Candelaria said he is “still using the well my great-grandfather dug with a pick and shove,” Swenka said he drilled a well for $17,000, but also “two dry holes—they also cost 17 grand.”

And Swenka added that Estancia sometimes has to call its largest water user, the CCA prison facility, “during peak hours if they have a well problem.”

The county needs to be committed,” Candelaria said, “not oly the municipalities but the county.”

Commissioner Jim Frost said that “quite a few” people have expressed the concern to him that if the water line goes from Willard to Moriarty, it could be extended further. “A few years ago there was a question of selling [water] to Santa Fe,” Frost said. “And I know this is only to Moriarty, but I’ve had people say, what’s to keep it from going on to Santa Fe?”

Swenka explained that the JPA and certificate of association both say that “EMWT will not export any water out of the Estancia Basin.”

He continued, “It’s in our organizational papers, and all the municipalities and county signed up also. Because this is visible and in front of the people I don’t think the exportation is a problem.”

Candelaria also mentioned a joint memorial spearheaded by state Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, which says that no water can be taken from the Estancia Basin, which has no surface water to recharge it—referred to as a closed basin—unless the entity wishing to do so could prove that there is no other source of water available.

A legislative memorial does not have any force of law, but is seen as a precedent, and acknowledgement of the Estancia Basin’s limitations in water.

Swenka said cost would not be a factor if water were available elsewhere, and said his group would push deep wells as an alternative to exporting water from the Estancia Basin if it came to that.

The commission funded $10,000 of EMWT’s $35,000 request, from capital outlay funding set aside in its budget with a unanimous vote. Commissioner Julia DuCharme was not present for the vote.