Sedimentation problems necessitate diversion structure overhaul for Lake Nighthorse intakes

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

No water will be pumped from the Animas River into Lake Nighthorse this year.

That is because the headgates at the dam southwest of Durango, Colorado, have to be destroyed and replaced, according to Animas-La Plata Project Operations, Maintenance and Repair Association General Manager Russ Howard.

Howard told the San Juan Water Commission on March 4 that the $6.5 million project is needed because the design was not appropriate for the location. This work is being done by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

He said work was also done prior to choosing to replace the gate. Howard said $1.5 million was spent “over the years trying to put a Band-Aid on something that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

When asked about the gate, Howard said the design, known as an Obermeyer, gate is not a bad design, but it was not appropriate for the Animas River.

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Justyn Liff agreed with Howard that the design was a good design but was not compatible with the Animas River’s conditions. She said on another river it would have worked fine, but the bureau had not realized how muddy the Animas River is.

The amount of mud in the Animas River caused problems and filled the pipes with mud.

In addition to the $6.5 million replacement of the headgates, Liff said the the gate’s original construction, retrofits to keep them operational and engineering studies and design cost about $6.2 million.

Lake Nighthorse changing the game for annual bird count — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

…volunteers with the National Audubon Society’s annual bird count, which has been ongoing since 1949, say they are starting to see the impact the new body of water is having on different species of birds around Durango in winter months.

“Lake Nighthorse has created a different habitat,” said John Bregar, a member of the Durango Bird Club. “It’s attracting water fowl and fish-eating birds we didn’t use to get so much of before. It’s pretty cool to be monitoring that.”

[…]

A group of about nine eared grebe, a water bird, which is a rare sight on the Christmas count, were spotted on Lake Nighthorse last year. Double-crested cormorant, a seabird, used to leave Southwest Colorado for warmer pastures but have taken up at the reservoir during the winter.

And two horned grebes, another water bird, which Bregar said were never recorded on a Christmas count and are not common in Southwest Colorado in general, are now wintering on Lake Nighthorse…

Bregar said aside from the rare finds, all kinds of birds take advantage of the waters and fish of Lake Nighthorse, such as bald eagles, loons and mergansers.

“It’s a deep body of water with a lot of fish,” he said, “so fish-eating birds are quite prevalent.”

In all, 31 volunteers counted 6,279 individual birds and 82 different species Dec. 15.

For reference, 2017 was seen as a good year for the bird count, with volunteers finding 85 species and 7,452 individual birds.

And in 2018, the count, which was conducted Dec. 16, found a strong number of diverse species – 82 – but the number of individual birds was down to 6,732…

Some interesting observations from the count include:

  • Bird counters noted a near record high number of northern harriers, a raptor, at 19. In a previous year, 20 were spotted
  • The bird count broke the record for white-winged doves. Only twice before has the count recorded that species, and each time, it was just one dove. “This year we recorded six white-winged doves, five near the upper Animas River and one along Florida Road,” Bregar said. “Durango has had a small population of white-winged doves hanging out in the northern portions of our city for years, but they seldom stray far enough south to get counted in our Christmas bird count.”
  • A flock of 21 snow geese was spotted flying above the skies in Durango. The birds usually are not seen in Southwest Colorado.
  • The most abundant bird spotted was the Canada goose at almost 1,200. Second place goes to juncos, a medium-sized sparrow, at around 1,000.
  • Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    @USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Survey work begins for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

    This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

    WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.

    WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504

    WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. 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. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

    @USBR advances water delivery project for Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations with contract negotiations for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project’s Cutter Lateral

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting where it will begin negotiations for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority for operation of federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.

    This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.

    WHEN: Wednesday, July 31, 2019, at 1:00 p.m.

    WHERE: Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority, 1 Uranium Blvd, Shiprock, New Mexico

    WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. 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. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81301, 970 385-6541, mbmiller@usbr.gov.

    Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

    The August 2018 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    First Lake Nighthorse Water Use Celebrated with Pipeline Completion

    La Plata West Water Authority held the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony to commemorate completion of the Phase 0 Raw Water Project. The ceremony was held at the Booster Pump Station located on County Road 210, at the entrance to the access road for the raw water intake structure at Lake Nighthorse. The event was attended by 32 guests all celebrating their efforts in making the project possible and come to fruition.

    The new rural domestic water pipeline is a four-way partnership between La Plata West, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Tribes, and Lake Durango. The process of this massive and costly construction design had to be laid out in multiple phases.

    Phase 0 of the pipelines’ goal is to provide a supply of raw water from the La Plata reservoir up to Lake Durango.

    San Juan (#NM) Water Commission study identifies possible pipeline alternatives from Lake Nighthorse to Farmington

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    Building a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Farmington could cost between $83 million and $173 million without calculating the cost of acquiring right of way access, a consultant to the San Juan Water Commission told the group today.

    Rick Cox, a senior engineer for the engineering firm AECOM who also serves as a consultant for the San Juan Water Commission, targeted that figure while delivering a presentation for the water commission during its monthly meeting here.

    The commission spent about $20,000 on a study to look at three alternatives that could help local water users if another mine spill occurred in Colorado and dumped toxic material in the Animas River. Those alternatives included building a small-diameter pipeline from Lake Nighthorse, building a large-diameter pipeline from Lake Nighthorse and building additional storage reservoirs.

    The lake is a storage facility located in a recently annexed portion of the city of Durango, Colorado. It stores water from the Animas River for several member entities including the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Tribe, the city of Durango and the San Juan Water Commission.

    Building shallow ponds to increase the storage capacity by 50 million gallons at the lake was the least expensive of the three options cited during today’s meeting. Cox said it would cost about $18 million. The additional 50 million gallons of storage would last about 14 days.

    The San Juan Water Commission represents Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and rural water users in San Juan County. Cox said not all of those water utilities would require additional storage capacity if another mine spill takes place.

    He explained that some water utilities, such as the Lower Valley Water Users, already have enough storage capacity. Other water users, such as the city of Bloomfield, could benefit from additional storage capacity, Cox said.

    Pipeline could provide water during drought

    While the additional water storage capacity would help local water users if another mishap like the Gold King Mine spill of August 2015 occurs, it would not provide much help during drought conditions, Cox said.

    A large-diameter pipeline could provide the water users with water for up to 114 days during drought, Cox said.

    The commission is considering having a more extensive feasibility study conducted on the three alternatives presented by Cox. San Juan Water Commission executive director Aaron Chavez said that would cost about $250,000…

    The San Juan Water Commission has rights to 20,800 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Nighthorse. During a drought, the water commission can call upon the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association, which oversees Lake Nighthorse operations, to release water for San Juan County water users. Currently, the only way to get that water from Lake Nighthorse to the water users in New Mexico is to release it back into the Animas River. A pipeline would ensure all the water released from Lake Nighthorse reaches water users in San Juan County.

    Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association general manager Russ Howard warned commissioners not to rely on Lake Nighthorse. Howard said it could take years to refill the reservoir after water is withdrawn. He warned if there was a multiple-year drought, Lake Nighthorse could only be an option for one year.

    Farmington: San Juan Water Commission meeting recap

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    San Juan Water Commission members have expressed concerns about recreation on one of the region’s larger reservoirs. Lake Nighthorse near Durango, Colorado, was built as part of the Animas-La Plata Project to store water for various entities in the region.

    “The purpose of the reservoir is for us, not for recreation,” said Cy Cooper, who represents the city of Farmington on the commission.

    The city of Durango, which recently annexed the reservoir, has said the lake will be open to recreational activities, including paddleboarding and kayaking, on April 1. The lake is scheduled to open to motorized watercraft on May 15, though city officials are still working on a plan for regulating that.

    Russ Howard, the general manager for the Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association, assured members of the San Juan Water Commission on Wednesday that recreation will not be prioritized ahead of water quality.

    “The primary purpose for this project is a drinking water supply, and recreation comes secondary,” Russ Howard said. “We are not going to let recreation interfere with the main, primary purpose of this project.”

    As of Monday, Lake Nighthorse was 97 percent full with nearly 112,000 acre-feet of water in it. The reservoir is expected to be 100 percent full by the end of June following 49 days of pumping water from the Animas River.

    If local water users, such as the city of Farmington or the city of Aztec, need more drinking water, they can ask for water from Lake Nighthorse to be released into the Animas River. San Juan County water users could request water from Lake Nighthorse if drought conditions put a strain on water resources.

    “People just need to realize that the lake is a dead pool if we destroy the viability of the water,” said Jim Dunlap, who represents rural San Juan County water users on the San Juan Water Commission.

    Howard said the baseline data is in place so changes in water quality can be detected. He said monitoring will be in place for bacteria like E. Coli and for petroleum byproducts. If either of those are detected, recreation activities could be stopped or reduced.

    An oil and gas separator has been installed at the boat ramp parking lot, Howard said. He said any oil or gas that leaks onto the asphalt will run into the separator.

    “Regardless of how many rules and regulations you put in place, you’re still going to have the idiots that will have to be dealt with,” Howard said. “The city (of Durango) has assured us and the public that they will manage the idiot factor, but it’s going to be a full-time job.”

    Members of the commission also received packets on Wednesday that included graphs and updates about water resources, including snowpack and stream flow data. The data was from organizations including the U.S. Geological Service and the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

    According to the U.S. Geological Service stream flow data, the Animas River’s flow in February was 47 and 63 percent of average, depending on the location of the gauge. The flow was below the 2002 levels, a year that turned out to be one of the driest on record. The Durango Herald reported this week that the Animas River in Colorado had reached record-low levels for this time of year.

    As of Tuesday, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center was reporting snowpack that was 53 percent of the median snowpack from 1981 until 2010 in the Animas Basin and 58 percent of median in the San Juan Basin.

    Drought conditions in the Four Corners region have worsened since the beginning of the year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The monitor also shows that drought conditions in the Four Corners region are worse now than they were at the beginning of March 2002.