Lake Nighthorse: “It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach” — Manuel Heart

Lake Nighthorse September 19, 2016.
Lake Nighthorse September 19, 2016.

Representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe were in Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama’s eighth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, according to this report from Jim Mimiaga writing for The Cortez Journal. President Obama was informed that the Ute Mountain Utes back a Bears Ears National Monument and fulfillment of original intent of the Animas-La Plata Project to build supply infrastructure. Here’s an excerpt:

…councilwoman Regina Whiteskunk…also reminded Obama of the Bears Ears Monument plan, which is supported by a coalition of five tribal leaders in the Southwest.

“I was able to shake President Obama’s hand and said ‘Remember Bears Ears,’ and he responded, ‘There is still work to do’,” Whiteskunk said. “It was not a ‘No,’ so I am pushing forward and maintain the thought that it can still get done.”


Currently, a key issue for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe is delivering water to the reservation from Lake Nighthorse near Durango, [Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart] said. The tribe owns 40 percent of the water in the 120,000-acre-foot reservoir, and a component of the Animas-La Plata Project built to satisfy Ute Mountain, Southern Ute and Navajo water rights. But while much of the lake’s water is owned by the Ute Mountain Utes, it is out of reach for practical uses, Heart said.

“It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach. We need delivery to our land, which was initially promised but was eventually cut out, so we have been fighting to get that back.”

One possibility is to use local rivers to deliver the water to the reservation.

It could be released from the Lake Nighthorse spillway into the Animas River, then flow to the San Juan River, which meets up with the Ute Mountain reservation near the Four Corners Monument.

Heart said that idea is being discussed, but has legal and topographical challenges.

“From the San Juan River, it would require many miles of new pipe and pumping the water uphill before it could arrive at our farms,” he said.

Delivering it to the tribe via pipelines directly from higher Lake Nighthorse is preferred because it would be gravity-fed, he said. Piping it to Jackson Reservoir could allow it to be delivered via the Mancos River to reservation lands.

“Delivering it to our land gives us control of our water to grow our economy, expand our farms or build a new community on the east side,” Heart said.

Federal support is key to getting things done in Indian Country, he said, and Obama’s annual Tribal Nations Conference helps influence federal officials to act and secure funding.

“I have been so privileged to learn from you while visiting more tribal communities than any other President,” Obama said at the conference. “We haven’t solved every issue. We haven’t righted every wrong. But together, we’ve made significant progress in almost every area.”

Under the Obama administration:

  • The White House Council of Native American Affairs was created, a cabinet level office that focuses on Indian Country issues.
  • More than 428,000 acres of tribal homelands were restored back to their original owners, and the Cobell settlement was signed into law that established the $1.9 billion Land Buy Back Program to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trusts.
  • Reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act so that tribes can prosecute those who commit domestic violence against women in Indian Country, whether they’re Native American or not.
  • Provided health care services in Indian Country through the Affordable Care Act, including permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
  • Whiteskunk praised Obama for “elevating the voice of Native Americans and valuing us” during his administration. In her meetings with federal officials, she pushed for improved consultation with tribes on projects and laws affecting Native American lands.

    “We discussed in great length about how consultation is either weak, vague or not consistently applied,” Whiteskunk said.

    “As president he has reached out to work with Native Tribes,” Heart said. “He is the first president to hold these annual meetings, and the hope is that the next president will continue them, so we have to wait and see.”

    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.
    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

    #ColoradoRiver: Powell and Mead get a boost from recent rainy weather #COriver

    Upper Colorado River Basin Water Year 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
    Upper Colorado River Basin Water Year 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal through August 31, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Recent and prolonged wet weather across regions that help feed water levels in Lake Powell has had a downstream effect that has water-watchers encouraged.

    Lake Powell wrapped up the water year nearly 500,000 acre-feet more full of Colorado River water than it did last year.

    At the same time, the water level of Lake Mead rose slightly over the 12-month period ending Sept. 30.

    Lake Powell ended the year at 53 percent full.

    The 12-month period beginning Oct. 1 was dubbed the “water year” by the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Conservation efforts by the states of the lower Colorado River Basin — Arizona, California, Nevada — resulted in 10 more feet of water in Lake Mead this year “and thus averted a shortage trigger this year,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which shepherded the state’s first water plan into existence nearly a year ago.

    “We can’t pop the end-of-water-year champagne just yet,” Eklund said. “We need to continue and finalize the (drought) contingency planning work so that it’s in place as soon as possible.”

    That planning is geared toward keeping water levels high enough in Lake Powell to allow Glen Canyon Dam to generate electricity while also meeting the Upper Colorado River Basin’s responsibility to supply 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the lower basin, based on a 10-year rolling average.

    While Lake Powell grew slightly, Blue Mesa, the largest lake in Colorado, shrunk, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoirs.

    Blue Mesa filled in to 825,000 acre-feet and ended the 2015 water year with 725,000 acre-feet of water, or 87 percent of full.

    This year, Blue Mesa’s high-water mark was 799,000 acre-feet and it ended the water year Friday with 668,000 acre-feet, or 80 percent full.