Lake Nighthorse update: Annexation by the City of Durango, completion of recreation infrastructure in the works

Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

…the city of Durango must annex the lake on County Road 210 and finish several construction projects before it’s ready for visitors, said Parks and Recreation Manager Cathy Metz. Durango City Council also needs to address a request to make the lake a no-wake area.

While there is no exact opening date, the city is targeting April 1, but this will depend on the construction season during the winter, Metz said.

City staff members have forecast an opening year for the lake in the past, but this time, the city is setting aside funding for operation in its 2018 budget. Lake operation, including staffing and materials, is expected to cost about $478,000, according to the city budget. City staff members will manage the lake and an entrance station where they will inspect boats for invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

Operational costs not covered by user fees will be split with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Metz said. The cost split with the bureau will include the cost of providing police presence at the lake.

The city is also planning to finish construction projects, including an overflow parking lot and a breakwater before the lake opens.

The city has proposed spending $300,000 next year on a breakwater and a courtesy dock. A federal grant will pay for the overflow parking lot, which is in the design stage.

Efforts to annex the property into the city are also underway. The lake and shoreline need to be within city limits so Durango Police Department can patrol the area…

The Animas La Plata Operation Maintenance Replacement Association is also discussing how to direct visitors away from areas around the lake where there are archaeological sites and cultural resources…

While a lot of work remains to be done to open the lake, some construction is finished, including an access road, boat ramp, parking lot and restrooms.

The entrance station where boats will be inspected is also close to completion, she said.

The city anticipates charging $5 for a day pass and $50 for an annual pass, she said.

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse August 2017 via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

Durango inks deal to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse

Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.
Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council approved a long-awaited lease Tuesday that will allow the city to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse.

“We have been waiting for this to be on the agenda since 2009,” Mayor Christina Rinderle said.

The 25-year lease will now be sent to the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the property, for approval, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said in an interview.

The city agreed to manage recreation at Lake Nighthorse because in 2008 Colorado Parks and Wildlife declined to do it.

The lease agreement is a big step, City Attorney Dirk Nelson said. But the city is not legally ready to open the property yet.

“This isn’t ours to open or close,” Councilor Dean Brookie said.

The city must annex the property; a planning-and-development memorandum of understanding must be signed; and necessary infrastructure, including a dock, must be built.

The city does not have a set time frame for opening the lake yet, Metz said.

“I can promise that we will make that known as soon as we can,” she said.

However, the lease will allow the city to make a good case for keeping some of the grants it has already received for construction of amenities around the lake, including a $3 million state grant that has not been completely spent, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

Another $285,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will help pay for a boat dock, an overflow parking area and to chip seal the road from County Road 210 to the boat ramp, Metz said.

The lease between the Bureau of Reclamation and the city will allow Parks and Wildlife to fund these projects.

A grant through the Bureau of Reclamation is also paying for an entrance station where boats will be inspected. This construction is underway, and it will be completed in 2017, Metz said.

Once the lake is opened, the city expects user fees to cover the operation of the area, she said.

If the city faced a shortfall in operational revenue, the city and the Bureau of Reclamation would split that cost, but only if the money was approved by the City Council and the U.S. Congress, she said.

Similarly, the city and the bureau could split the cost of future construction projects, she said.

The cost-sharing is specified in the lease, she said.

However, the bureau will own any structures that it funds, according to the lease.

As part of its management plan, the city plans to annex the 1,500 acres of surface water, about 500 acres of land on the east side of the lake, as well as a narrow band of land around the whole lake. This will allow city police officers to patrol the area.

A swimming beach, natural surface trails, camping and picnic areas are planned for the annexed area, but they will be phased in later.

Limiting the annexation to certain areas is meant to protect archaeological sites, Metz said.

During a December meeting of the Natural Land Preservation Advisory Board, Metz said that a plan to manage hunting near the lake must also be agreed upon as part of the preparation to open the lake.

While hunting would not be allowed on annexed land, it could be allowed on adjacent land.

The city plans to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on hunting management, Metz said.

The lake could offer an area for water fowl hunting that isn’t available close to Durango, said Steve McClung, representing Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a nonvoting member natural land board.

San Juan water commissioners pony up $20,000 to study pipeline from Lake Nighthorse

Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.
Lake NIghthorse September 19, 2016.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The pipeline could supply the water commission’s share of water from the Animas-La Plata project — a water storage project that led to the creation of Lake Nighthorse south of Durango, Colo.

Aaron Chavez, the executive director of the San Juan Water Commission, said the study will examine three alternatives — construction of a small-diameter pipe that could supply water in case of emergencies, construction of a larger-diameter pipe that would provide San Juan County with all of its Animas-La Plata water rights or increased raw water storage.

Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said there will always be a lot of questions about the possibility of a pipeline.

“Nineteen-thousand or $20,000 is a small amount to pay to answer some of the questions,” he said.

He said the study could help the commission determine if a pipeline is feasible.

“It may be a good idea, but it may cost so much that we can’t afford it,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap also advocated for making the results of the study available to the public…

In other business, the commission heard a presentation from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission about the Colorado River Basin System Conservation Pilot Program, which aims to combat the dropping water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The two reservoirs are experiencing declining levels in light of a 15-year drought in the Colorado River Basin, which includes San Juan County, according to the presentation.

Kristin Green, a representative of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, said hydropower generated at Lake Powell funds the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program. The program focuses on recovering populations of endangered fish.

Green warned that a loss of money from hydropower could impact the fish populations in the San Juan River basin.

The water conservation pilot program began in 2014 and has had several rounds of applications for project funding. The final round of project applications opened at the beginning of October. The application deadline is Nov. 30.

Of the 35 projects approved, only two have been from New Mexico. One of the two projects was a municipal efficiency improvements project, and the other involved fallowing — or taking agricultural land out of production.

Dunlap cautioned about taking agricultural land out of production to conserve water.

“If you take all the agriculture out of a community, then you kill the community,” he said.

Green said the majority of the approved projects have been fallowing projects and are temporary.

“We’re not looking to buy and dry,” she said.

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.

    Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

    Lake Nighthorse from the Ridges Basin Dam September 19, 2016.
    Lake Nighthorse from the Ridges Basin Dam September 19, 2016.

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.

    On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment.

    “We cannot separate water from our way of life,” said Southern Ute Chairman Clement Frost. “We saw how important it is when the Gold King Mine spill happened.”

    The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.

    Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.

    The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.

    Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.

    The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.

    As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.

    A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.

    Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.

    Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.