The November 2020 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 (Elaine Chick):

The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) Celebrates Final Water Purchase from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority

The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District (ALPWCD) celebrates the Districts final purchase of the water from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

On Saturday, October 17th the ALPWCD held a celebration at the Tribute Gardens at Lake Nighthorse commemorating the final payment option of their incremental purchase from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWR & PDA) for their share of 700 AF of depletion purchased as part of the Animas La Plata Project.

First authorized by the U.S. Congress on September 30, 1968 (Public Law 90-537), the Animas-La Plata Water Project experienced a few decades of delays due in part to political concerns, farming claims, environmental challenges, cost overruns and government funding issues. A breakthrough to the delays came with the Colorado Ute Settlement Act Amendments in December 2000 (Public Law 106-554).

Christine Arbogast, Kogovsek & Associates, lobbyist at that time with ALPWCD for the project, stated, “Advocacy is all about relationship. This project would not have happened if all of the partners for the project had not stuck together in that family relationship that is ALP.”

The Bureau of Reclamation began construction in 2003, with the reservoir filling to capacity on June 29, 2011 at a total cost of $500 million. Lake Nighthorse is named in honor of former United States Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo. The reservoir is part of the Animas-La Plata Water Project, providing water storage for tribal and non-tribal water right claim-holders on the Animas River in both Colorado and New Mexico.

The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District was one of the seven original sponsors of the ALP Project: The other sponsors included the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, State of Colorado, La Plata Conservancy District in New Mexico, and San Juan Water Commission in New Mexico.

The general purpose of the District includes, but is not limited to: “acquire and appropriate waters of the Animas and La Plata rivers and their tributaries and other sources of water supply by means of ‘works’ as defined in the ‘Water Conservancy Act’ and to divert, store, transport, conserve and stabilize all of said supplies of water for domestic, irrigation, power, manufacturing and other beneficial uses within and for the territory to be included in the District.”

The ALPWCD Statutory Project Allocation was purchased in advance on behalf of local entities by the Colorado Water and Power Resource Development Authority. ALPWCD being one of those entities, worked for many years to make that incremental purchase from the Authority, and now that water is in local hands and is being put to use. ALPWCD has made subsequent sales of their portion of the original allocation of that water that provides multiple benefits to the community. One of ALPWCD’s principle missions is to develop water for the benefit of the local community, and that has happened!

The City of Durango has purchased the remaining amount of the original ALPWCD Project Allocation from the Authority to firm up their future water supplies, and the La Plata West Water Authority and Lake Durango Water Authority have made subsequent purchases of water from the Animas-La Plata District which is being put to use for rural domestic water in the western part of La Plata County.

The Animas-La Plata Project is managed by the ALP Operations, Maintenance and Replacement, Association, and includes representatives from the project participants. (ALPOM&R Association). Recreation at Lake Nighthorse is managed by the City of Durango in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation.

Water projects can take decades to come to fruition, but after many years of hard work by countless individuals and organizations uses are occurring from this reservoir and associated project facilities. This is one more step in making the water in Lake Nighthorse of beneficial use to local communities!

#Runoff news: @USBR is expecting below a normal season on the #AnimasRiver #snowpack

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

“I think, unfortunately, it’s one of those years that’s kind of a bummer,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center. “Everything is going to be below average.”

Animas River Basin SNOTEL snowpack graph May 3, 2020 via the NRCS.

Snowpack in the San Juan Mountains this winter hovered near historic averages, according to Snotel sites, which track snow depth.

But Snotel sites tell only part of the story.

For one, there are a limited number of sites in the basin. And this year, elevations above most Snotel sites around 11,000 feet didn’t receive as much snow as usual.

To make matters worse, drought conditions last summer and fall caused the ground to dry up significantly, so soil likely will absorb more snowmelt than normal, at the expense of rivers and streams.

As a result, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts the Animas River will receive about 70% of the water it usually does in spring, Nielson said.

The forecast center also predicts the Animas River likely will hit a peak flow of 2,300 to 2,500 cubic feet per second, though as much as 3,000 cfs is possible…

As of Friday, Snotel records show Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is melting at an accelerated rate: Snowpack in the San Juans is 70% of normal historic averages for this time of year.

Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director for the city of Durango, said a heavy snowpack year in the winter of 2018-19 provided good storage for the town’s reservoir, which should help water reserves during a below-normal runoff.

The city of Durango gets most of its water from the Florida River and supplements supply from the Animas River when demand increases…

Water is not being pulled from the Animas River to Lake Nighthorse this year, said Russ Means, general manager of the reservoir, as crews work on the intake structure across from Santa Rita Park.

On Friday, the Animas River was running at 1,700 cfs, which is 25% higher than average for this time of year, said Frank Kugel, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

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.

    @USBR Continues Animas-La Plata Project Contract Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is continuing 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 second negotiation meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 11, 2018, 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 councillors set April 1, 2018 opening for recreation at Lake Nighthorse

    Lake Nighthorse August 2017 via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Durango City Council unanimously committed to opening Lake Nighthorse on April 1 and forming an advisory group to help guide the management of the area…

    The advisory group, called the Friends of Lake Nighthorse, would likely include people representing motorized boating, fishing, sailing, city advisory boards, governments involved in the lake and the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, among others, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said…

    The recommendation from the advisory group go to both the city of Durango and the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the lake.

    Big changes in lake management could require an amendment to the lease agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, and that could postpone opening of the lake beyond 2018, Metz said.

    None of the councilors supported changes that would require a delay, but they did seem interested in responding to the flood of emails and suggestions they received on the issue…

    Councilor Sweetie Marbury supported designating hours for motorized and non-motorized use to help accommodate both groups.

    Limiting use at the lake could raise some budgetary concerns, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

    The city and the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to split any budget shortfalls from operating the lake, and the city has only about $153,000 in the general fund that is not already allocated for other uses. The city as already set aside about $400,000 for operating the lake.

    A 2010 market assessment found about 32 percent of Lake Nighthorse visitors would be interested in power boating and 33 percent would be interested in nonmotorized boating.

    Limiting the uses on the lake or restricting the hours of certain uses on the lake could cut into the revenue the city can earn, he said.

    Before the council started its discussion on Lake Nighthorse Jerry Olivier defended motorized use on the lake…

    Johnson with the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, suggested the city consider charging admission to the lake by the person instead of by the carload and to ask residents about the management of the lake in an upcoming Parks and Recreation survey.

    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.

    Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    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…

    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.

    #AnimasRiver: San Juan [#NM] Water Commission looking @ pipeline from Lake Nighthorse

    Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR
    Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

    The commission decided today that it will meet in October to discuss whether to pursue a conceptual design of the pipeline.

    Aaron Chavez, director of the San Juan Water Commission, highlighted the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 as a reason the county could benefit from a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse.

    During a meeting in August about the spill, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said a pipeline to Lake Nighthorse could be used during emergency situations to provide water to downstream communities…

    Chavez said that while the lake could provide additional water to San Juan County, there has been no pumping this year from the reservoir — which is fed by the Animas River — due to concerns stemming from the Gold King Mine spill, which released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater containing toxic metals into the river.

    Chavez said the original purpose of Lake Nighthorse was to provide communities a reliable source of water during droughts…

    The possibility of a pipeline also comes with other concerns. Chavez highlighted invasive species, such as quagga mussels, as one of those issues. A recreation plan is currently being developed for Lake Nighthorse, and officials fear boats on the reservoir could introduce quagga mussels to the system. The invasive species could then attach to pipeline infrastructure, leading to clogged water systems.

    Chavez said a conceptual design for the pipeline is estimated to cost $10,000 to $15,000, while a more detailed study would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

    Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said the pipeline will be expensive to construct.

    “We can’t just put it in Lake Farmington and call it done,” Dunlap said.

    He said the pipeline would need “spurs” to all the San Juan County water treatment facilities.

    Southwestern Water hears proposals for Dryside irrigation — The Cortez Journal

    Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR
    Animas-La Plata Project map via USBR

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace) via The Cortez Journal:

    Options to pump Animas River water to Redmesa for irrigation were recently floated to the Southwestern Water Conservation District, though none of the projects have funding.

    The proposals would pump water uphill from the Lake Nighthorse intake to Redmesa Reservoir, east of the La Plata River and about four miles north of the New Mexico border.

    “The 700-foot elevation difference is the reason it hasn’t been done, and demand is the reason it won’t go away,” said Steve Harris, a water engineer who designed the projects. “Taylor Reservoir is an attempt to better use what little water is out there, but we’re still short-changed.”

    Under the 1922 La Plata River Compact, the state is required to send half of the La Plata River’s flow from Hesperus, when it is discharging at 100 cubic feet per second or less, to New Mexico. But hot summers, peak irrigation season and subsequent low flows can prevent Colorado from fulfilling this obligation.

    The Bobby K. Taylor Reservoir, just south of Redmesa, was designed to allow Colorado water users to divert water that would otherwise flow to New Mexico. Harris’ designs would offer another means of getting water to La Plata County’s Dayside…

    The proposals vary in construction and operational costs and size.

    One would pump 14 cfs from the Lake Nighthorse intake to Redmesa Reservoir, discharging at points along the way including at Long Hollow Reservoir. The cost of construction is estimated at $43.5 million.

    Another proposal, which would cost about $430 million to build, would pump 287 cfs through larger pipelines. This project would require new infrastructure because the 287 cfs would exceed existing infrastructure’s capacity.

    A third proposal would pump 14 cfs directly from the Animas River to Redmesa Reservoir for a construction cost of $58.5 million.

    Whitehead said it would be premature to name a preferred design, or say how a future project might be funded.

    “The important thing with all of them is that they all show there are benefits, and it comes down to refining them and seeing who would potentially partner with us.”

    Southwestern Water Conservation District 75th Anniversary

    The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
    The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

    From the Water Information Program:

    The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD or District) was created by the Colorado General Assembly in 1941, thereby marking the District’s 75th anniversary this year! The SWCD encompasses Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel and parts of Hinsdale, Mineral, and Montrose counties. In a press release issued by SWCD board president John Porter, and recently printed in the Durango Herald, Porter shares some lessons learned in the past 75 years, ones that will be carried through the next 75:

    Lesson No. 1: Adaptability is a Necessity

    Times have changed since 1941. Colorado statute charges the district with “protecting, conserving, using and developing the water resources of the southwestern basin for the welfare of the district, and safeguarding for Colorado all waters of the basin to which the state is entitled.” Following this mandate, the district worked tirelessly for decades to ensure water supplies would meet growing demand by filing for storage project water rights in almost every major river basin. SWCD lobbied for federal dollars to be spent on project construction in our area. The philosophy was, and continues to be, to plant the seed and help it grow.

    This work resulted in the establishment of the Florida Water Conservancy District and Lemon Reservoir; the Pine River Project extension; the Dolores Water Conservancy District and McPhee Reservoir; the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District; Ridges Basin Reservoir; Long Hollow Reservoir; the San Juan Water Conservancy District; and the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.

    As population pressure threatens to dry up agriculture, and regulations and constituent values have expanded to include environmental protections and recreational use, the district’s mission has adapted necessarily. When the A-LP Project debate was underway, for example, SWCD was integral in the formation of the San Juan Recovery Program, established to recover endangered fish species populations in the San Juan River in New Mexico downstream of the proposed reservoir. SWCD currently funds a variety of essential work, including stream flow data collection and mercury sampling in local reservoirs. To address mounting concerns regarding future compact curtailment and drought, SWCD supports water supply augmentation through winter cloud seeding and exploring creative solutions like “water banking.”

    Lesson No. 2: Be at the Table

    Participation at the local, state and federal levels is essential to protecting our resources. That’s why the District is a member of Colorado Water Congress, a state entity focused on water policy.

    The District takes positions and engages in debate on water-related bills during the state legislative season. We keep a close eye on federal water management policies, often submitting public comments and working with federal and state partners to ensure continued state control of water rights. The District is supportive of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program to establish minimum stream flows for the environment, and is working to improve the program’s ability to adapt to rural community needs for future development. As for the broader Colorado River system, SWCD participates in dialogue among Upper Basin states through the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    At the local level, the district has represented water development interests in the collaborative River Protection Workgroup, which resulted in the Hermosa Creek Watershed Act. SWCD worked with other Roundtable members to ensure our corner of the state was heard in the Colorado Water Plan.

    Lesson No. 3: Reinvest Local Tax Dollars Locally

    It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that SWCD’s grant program supports water work across the district: domestic supply and irrigation infrastructure improvements, recreational development, habitat rehabilitation, collaborative community processes and water quality studies. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Archuleta, Mineral and Hinsdale counties: Rio Blanco habitat restoration by the San Juan Conservation District, watershed health via the San Juan Mixed Conifer Group.
  • La Plata County: Initial studies for Long Hollow Reservoir, the La Plata West Water Authority’s rural domestic water system.
  • San Juan County: Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies dust-on-snow research, mining reclamation through the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
  • Montezuma and Dolores counties: The Dolores River Dialogue (a collaboration focused on issues below McPhee Dam), irrigation efficiency improvements by the High Desert Conservation District.
  • San Miguel and Montrose counties: The San Miguel Watershed Coalition’s watershed studies and irrigation diversion improvements to allow fish and boater passage, domestic system upgrades for the town of Norwood.
  • Lesson No. 4: Educate the Next Generation of Leaders

    For more than 20 years, the district has spearheaded regional water education by sponsoring an Annual Children’s Water Festival for students across the basin and administering the Water Information Program with contributions from participating entities. SWCD played an instrumental role in creating the statewide Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and continues to sponsor the organization. As generations of water leaders step back, new stewards must step forward to ensure that the Southwest Colorado we know and love continues.

    From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

    “The water is our life blood that feeds all of us,” Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Clement Frost told participants in the 34th annual Water Seminar on April 1 in Durango.

    The seminar is organized by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD). This year’s event celebrated the district’s 75th anniversary…

    The Animas/ La Plata Project and the now completed Lake Nighthorse were mentioned by Frost and other speakers as examples of choosing collaboration over litigation. They settle Ute water rights claims going back to 1868, senior to any other rights.

    “The tribes and water users have a relationship that’s quite unique” versus other places where entities end up in court fights that can last for decades, explained Christine Arbogast with the lobbying firm of Kogovsek and Associates. “Here the tribes and non-Indian community decided in the early 1980s to negotiate and not litigate.”

    The negotiations started in 1984 and concluded in 1986, she said, but they still needed congressional approval, which came in 1988 with bipartisan support from the Colorado delegation. But an irrigation water delivery system to the Dry Side had to be eliminated as part of that.

    Arbogast called that a painful compromise, “that we all looked at the stewardship of water together and the preciousness of water together.”

    Frost said, “I have the most admiration for the ranchers who gave up their rights to irrigation water. They understood it was necessary for Animas/ La Plata to move ahead.”

    He commended the help of SWWCD “in helping us get things done. We all march together to take care of a problem, and not march apart to continue a problem.”

    Speakers through the day cited the water district’s financial and other help in their various missions.

    The district was formed in 1941 by the state legislature and is one of four such districts around the state, district Director Bruce Whitehead said. The district covers all of six counties and parts of three others. The district’s directive is to protect and develop all waters in the basin that the state is entitled to, he said.

    District Board President John Porter noted there are nine river systems within the district, and they all flow out of state.

    “Indian water rights cases couldn’t have been solved without storage,” he said. “Without that, non-Indians wouldn’t have much water after July 1” each year, when rivers tend to go on call.

    The district is funded with property taxes. It has a $1.5 million annual budget and over the past 30 years has awarded almost $9 million in grants, Porter said.

    Longtime Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said $50,000 from SWWCD and $25,000 from the Southwest Water Roundtable helped the 18-lot Palo Verde subdivision near Three Springs install a water line to get Durango water when residents’ domestic wells started failing.

    Travis Custer with the High Desert and Mancos Conservation Districts said education efforts on more efficient irrigation methods are part of “the idea that we are responsible for our resources. Water saved on the farm benefits everyone… It’s mitigation rather than emergency response. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of an ag operation.” Instead, it can be an enhancement, he said.

    “We’re looking at ways to replicate efficiencies in the larger area,” Custer said. “We have to work together, agencies with agencies and with producers to build trust. In the West, these situations aren’t going to get any better. No new water will be created.”

    Asked how more efficient irrigation might have consequences with the doctrine of “use it or lose it,” Custer said that doctrine has a lot of gray areas. “We have to look at opportunities to adjust our thought process and legislate to address the current situation. We want to keep land in ag. Legislation that prohibits conservation needs to be addressed,” he said.

    The keynote speakers were water attorney and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs and Bill McDonald, a former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a lead negotiator on the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement and the implementing legislation.

    “Remember your history is lesson 1,” McDonald said. He gave a brief history of water issues in Colorado and called water “the state’s liquid gold.”

    Debates over trans-mountain water diversions started in the 1930s with the Colorado/ Big Thompson water project to bring water to northeastern Colorado. In 1937, a Governor’s Water Defense Association was created to defend against downstream states. In-stream flow rights became an issue in the 1970s.

    Hobbs said about two-thirds of the water that originates in Colorado flows out of state to 18 downstream states. In the 1980s, he and fellow attorney David Robbins won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to keep Ute water rights cases in state rather than federal courts. They also defended the constitutionality of in-stream flow rights.

    “In-stream flow has been our safety valve to show we can preserve the environment in the name of the people,” Hobbs said. “It was a great day when that was upheld.”

    The seminar finished with Peter Butler from the Animas River Stakeholders Group and discussion of toxic mine drainage from above Silverton. SWWCD helped with funding for four stream gauges near Silverton. The one on Cement Creek is how it was determined that the Gold King mine spill last August was 3 million gallons, he said. SWWCD also helped them get in-stream flow rights and has supported “Good Samaritan” legislation, he said and thanked the district for its support over the years.

    The day included a tribute to Fred Kroeger, who was on the SWWCD board for 55 years and served as board president for 33 years. He died last year at age 97. He also served on various other state and local water-related boards and community service groups. He and buddy Sam Maynes Sr. were known for the lame jokes they told at the water seminars as well as for their water project advocacy including A/LP and McPhee on the Dolores.

    “He set the standard by which we behave in the water business,” water engineer Steve Harris said of Kroeger. “Be a diplomat, dignified, a gentleman. Be willing to compromise. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t give up. Be involved.”

    Arbogast added: “You never heard him call anybody a name. In today’s political environment, that would be pretty refreshing, wouldn’t it?”

    Here’s a photo poem from Greg Hobbs. He was one of the keynote speakers at the shindig:

    Southwestern District’s 75th Anniversary

    Dominguez and Escalante peered into this ancestral
    Great Kiva looking for the Colorado River

    Where the Shining Mountains and their waters also lead us on.

    anasaziheritagecenter

    East of the Divide where snowmelt’s stored for so many newer Coloradans

    montezumavalleygreghobbslaplatas

    A slender ribbon, the South Platte, slices through the High Plains

    southplatterivergreghobbs

    Into the high country’s lift off.

    frontrangemarch2016greghobbs

    Over the Sangres winging

    sangredecritos032016greghobbs

    Over the circles of San Luis Valley harvesting

    sanluisvalley032016greghobbs

    Up the Rio Grande into its headwaters

    riogranderiver032016greghobbs

    West for the San Juans!

    sanjuans032016greghobbs

    Riding the billows

    sanjuanswingtip032016greghobbs

    Of Southwestern’s embrace

    southwesternbasingmapgreghobbs

    The fellowship of shared communities

    southwesternwater5th032016greghobbs

    The River runs through.

    animasriverrunsthroughgreghobbs

    Students of the land

    southwesternwater75th032016greghobbs

    Gather to honor

    johnportersouthwesterwater75th032016greghobbs

    The heritage of so many

    southwesterwater75th032016greghobbs

    Who came before these Young

    southwestern75thgreghobbs

    Who wear the beads of service

    southwesternwater75th032016greghobbs

    Keeping faith with the Ute

    lakenighthorse032016greghobbs

    And Navajo neighbors

    navajoneighborsgreghobbs

    In the leavening

    image062

    Of Lake Nighthorse and Durango

    lakenighthorsedurango032016greghobbs

    Lake Nighthorse: “…there’s time, and there’s water time” — Charlie Smith

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    A 4.6-mile pipeline that will carry water from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango went to bid March 31, and construction is expected to start within a month.

    “That side of the county really needs help, and that’s what La Plata West is going to do,” said Mardi Gebhardt, a La Plata West Water Authority board member. “Lake Durango is going to be our partner in treating the raw water.”

    A 30-inch line will extend from Nighthorse’s north shore, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land and private property along Wildcat Ridge to a booster pump station. There, an 8-inch line will make a right angle west, running parallel to Wildcat Canyon Road (County Road 141) before winding north to Lake Durango.

    Tap fees and a Colorado Water Conservation Board grant will finance the $3.4 million project, which is a collaborative between Lake Durango Water Authority, La Plata West Water Authority and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

    Charlie Smith, general manager of Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 customers are on the waiting list for taps.

    “For our service area, this is enough to meet the demands and future demands in the system,” Smith said, referring to the many customers hauling water. The authority can pump 400 gallons per minute, depending on demand.

    Early projections anticipated the project would be complete by the end of 2015, but as Smith said, “there’s time, and there’s water time.”

    A pending final environmental assessment from the Bureau of Reclamation and negotiations with 16 property owners abutting the project is a large part of that…

    The pipeline is the first mechanism that will pump water out of Lake Nighthorse and a first step to fulfilling a grander scheme to supply water, particularly to the tribes, which have the largest claims to Nighthorse water.

    The agreement among the four stakeholders allows the Ute Mountain Utes to come back at a later time and extend the pipeline. Peter Ortega, legal counsel for the Ute Mountain Utes, said the pipeline is the first phase of moving water to where the tribe really needs it.

    “We hope it eventually will reach the western edge of the reservation,” Ortega said. “It’s moving water slowly in our direction.”

    Click here to read the draft EIS.

    proposeddrysidepipelinefromlakenightnorse

    Reclamation Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment for the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan.

    The draft environmental assessment includes a no action alternative and three alternative recreation plans. The three proposed plans provide different scenarios for recreation at Lake Nighthorse while protecting water quality and sensitive natural, cultural, and other resources and ensure compatibility with the primary purpose of the Animas-La Plata Project for municipal and industrial water supply.

    “We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the process of integrating recreation into the Animas-La Plata Project, said Ed Warner, Area Manager of the Western Colorado Area Office. “We are working as quickly as possible to make sure we address everyone’s concerns, follow regulations and requirements, and consider public safety. We encourage those interested in recreation at Lake Nighthorse to review the draft recreation plan and give us your comments on the proposed alternatives. We are looking forward to recreation becoming a reality on ALP Project lands in the future.”

    The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/index.html, under the Environmental Compliance tab or a copy can be received by contacting Justyn Liff at 970-248-0625.

    Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted by email to jliff@usbr.gov or mailed to: Ed Warner, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave., Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501. Comments are due by Monday, April 25.

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

    Lake Nighthorse is a component of the ALP Project. The ALP Project was built to fulfill the water rights settlement of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes of the southwestern Colo.

    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

    Lake Nighthorse assessment available soon for comment — The Cortez Journal

    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

    From The Cortez Journal (Jessica Pace):

    An environmental assessment and other documentation on Lake Nighthorse may soon be available for public review and comment, bringing residents a step closer to recreational use, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say.

    Kathleen Ozga, resource division manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Western Colorado Area Office, said the comment period will last 30 days. The agency will then continue massaging the environmental assessment with a tentative completion date in late April.

    “We’re reviewing the documents internally and hoping by the end of the month, a draft of the EA will be available,” Ozga said. “Once that’s done, there would be construction at the entrance area, signage, an overflow parking lot and possibly improvements to the access road. Ideally, we’re looking at (opening recreation) sometime in 2017.”

    Lake Nighthorse was filled with 1,500 surface acres in June 2011 with the purpose of providing water for local tribes and water districts. But fishing, boating, swimming and other recreational uses have been prohibited, to the public’s dismay, as stakeholders weigh the impacts of such uses and figure out which entity – which could be the city of Durango – should be charged with managing recreation.

    Most concerns from the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, which have a significant claim to water rights at the lake, are connected with the impact to cultural resources and water quality. Proposed compromises entail limiting lake access to day-use only and prohibiting camping.

    R.I.P Fred Kroeger

    Fred Kroeger via the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District
    Fred Kroeger via the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District

    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    Whether you call him the epitome of the Greatest Generation or the man who would not give up, former Durango Mayor Frederick V. Kroeger, who died Saturday at 97, left a legacy for generations of Southwest Coloradans to come.

    The most visible parts of that legacy? Lake Nighthorse, Kroeger Hall and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College and the business he founded in 1967, Kroegers Ace Hardware, an expansion of his family’s Farmers Supply that dates back to 1921…

    “He had a huge talent for leadership and was always positive and forward-looking,” Short said, “He never gave up. When I think about all the support, rallying and lobbying he did for the (Animas-La Plata Project) … he wasn’t going to stop until he saw it through.”

    Water conservation and storage were key issues for Kroeger most of his life, in part because of his family’s connection to the agricultural sector through Farmers Supply and in part because extended family members lived in southwest La Plata County, where water is scarce. Kroeger made countless trips to Washington, D.C., and Denver to lobby federal and state agencies on behalf of Southwest Colorado.

    “What more can I say? He’s one of the great figures in Colorado water history,” said former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, who told the Herald in 2009 he’d been inspired by his Southern Colorado counterparts while serving as the counsel for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

    “He was from that Greatest Generation, and he did everything with the highest integrity and ethics,” [Sheri Rochford Figgs] said. “I admired all of them so much – Fred Kroeger, Robert Beers, Morley (Ballantine) – because if they said they were going to do something, they did it, and they did it with gusto and enthusiasm.”

    Lake Nighthorse water-rights settlement pushed to Jan. 15 — The Durango Herald

    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    A ruling on the settlement agreement reached last month in the years-long Animas-La Plata Project legal battle over water rights to Lake Nighthorse was continued to Jan. 15.

    Chief District Judge Gregory Lyman’s ruling was postponed until next month because a signed agreement to the settlement is still needed from several federal parties involved, including the Department of Justice.

    Last month, stakeholders reached the settlement, which saved all parties from an arduous trial over whether the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s continued use of the water from Lake Nighthorse for irrigation is consistent with state and federal law.

    The SWCD had conditional rights to the water through a temporary permit.

    The litigation sprang from groups, including the Animas Conservancy District, San Juan Water Commission, Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe, that were opposed to the SWCD’s continued use of water from Lake Nighthorse, which was designated to fulfill the water needs of native communities and water districts in Colorado and New Mexico.

    Reclamation Releases a Draft Environmental Assessment for the Lake Durango Water Pipeline

    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Justyn Liff):

    The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment for the Lake Durango Water Pipeline Project.

    The La Plata West Water Authority is proposing to construct a 4.6 mile water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse, part of the Animas-La Plata Project to Lake Durango in La Plata County, Colo. The purpose of the water pipeline is to meet the current and future needs for domestic water supply in western La Plata County.

    The proposed project includes 4.6 miles of pipeline, an access road to the intake structure, a new 40×40-foot building around the existing intake chamber, a parking area, and a booster pump station. Currently, there is no way to pump water out of Lake Nighthorse. The pipeline and associated facilities will provide access and a way to deliver Animas-La Plata Project water.

    The draft environmental assessment is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/index.html, under the Environmental Compliance tab or a copy can be received by contacting Phillip Rieger at 970-385-6515.

    Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted by email to prieger@usbr.gov or mailed to Phillip Rieger, Bureau of Reclamation, 185 Suttle St. Ste. 2, Durango, CO 81301. Comments are due by Monday, January 10, 2016.

    Water rights stakeholders able to reach settlement in Animas-La Plata Project — The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A collective sigh of relief was let out in 6th Judicial District Court on Monday after a settlement was reached by several local agencies with a stake in the water rights of the Animas-La Plata Project stored in Lake Nighthorse.

    Chief District Judge Gregory Lyman will review the details of the settlement in the coming weeks, and the court will reconvene 1:30 p.m. Dec. 10 to hear his ruling.

    The case stems from a decades-long debate over water rights to the Animas River. In June 2011, Lake Nighthorse was filled with 1,500 surface acres by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide water for Native American tribes, cities and water districts in Colorado and New Mexico.

    However, the Southwestern Water Conservation District has used the water for irrigation, through a temporary permit. Recently, the water district applied to continue its conditional water rights, but it was met with a flurry of opposition from various agencies, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Animas Conservancy District, San Juan Water Commission, among others.

    “It is an extremely complicated case, with complex claims and complex objections,” Lyman told The Durango Herald after the hearing.

    Lyman praised the various stakeholders for coming to an agreement among themselves, rather than taking the case through a lengthy, heated trial.

    “This should have been a three-week trial,” Lyman said. “They all worked hard. Like I told them, ‘I’m sure they addressed their issues better than I could of.’”

    Bruce Whitehead, executive director for SWCD, emphasized those complexities.

    “There were lots of parts in play,” Whitehead said. “There was a difference of opinion on how much water was needed for the (A-LP). The incentive for us (to settle) was to get some closure on the A-LP project itself.”[…]

    Scott McElroy, an attorney for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, said the Tribal Council passed a resolution Monday approving the settlement.

    “Sometimes the A-LP engenders strong feelings,” he said, provoking some light laughter in the courtroom. “It was a little bit of a family feud for a while. It’s nice to put everything together and come up with a settlement.”

    US Senators Bennet and Gardner, along with US Representative Tipton pen letter requesting the opening of Lake Nighthorse

    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Michael Cipriano):

    U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, penned a letter to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López requesting open access to the Lake Nighthorse Reservoir at the earliest possible date.

    The La Plata County reservoir was completed in 2011, but a recreation plan has not yet been agreed on, and the area has remained closed to the public.

    Lake Nighthorse is currently being managed by a coalition of partners that helped build the original reservoir.

    The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District commissioned a report that found recreation at Lake Nighthorse could stimulate upwards of $12 million in annual economic benefits for La Plata County.

    “Given this momentum, we encourage the Bureau to expedite and prioritize its environmental analysis of the proposal, which would clear the way to open the lake to public access,” the letter reads.”

    The letter also says that as of March 6, all members and partners of the Animas-La Plata Project’s Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association have endorsed the assessment of a draft recreational plan for the lake.

    Several other entities have also expressed support for recreation at the reservoir, including the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, and the city of Durango.

    “Given this impressive show of support throughout the region, we urge the Bureau to redouble their efforts to analyze and adopt an agreeable plan that will open Lake Nighthorse to recreational access as soon as possible,” the letter reads. “We look forward to your response including a timeline for next steps and to the resolution of this issue.”

    Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury said she is looking forward to the city’s residents being able to enjoy the area for swimming, fishing boating and other recreational uses.

    “I am pleased to see that all the partners are now on board to initiate a process that we hope will open Lake Nighthorse as soon as possible,” Marbury said. “I appreciate our congressional delegation showing leadership on behalf of Southwest Colorado to support our efforts to open Lake Nighthorse to the public.”

    More Animas-La Plata project coverage here and here.

    Lake Nighthorse: “This water would really help our future” — Manuel Heart

    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    The Durango City Council signed a resolution Tuesday supporting the delivery of water from Lake Nighthorse to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

    “This water would really help our future,” Chairman Manuel Heart said.

    The resolution stemmed from a series of recent meetings between city officials and the tribe about the potential recreational use of Lake Nighthorse, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

    The city likely will send the resolution to Colorado’s U.S. senators and House members to help support the tribe as it seeks funding for infrastructure to deliver water.

    Lake Nighthorse was built to provide Native American tribes, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, with water they are entitled to receive, said Justyn Hoch, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has water rights to about 31 percent of the water stored in the lake, but Congress has not funded infrastructure to bring it to the reservation, she said.

    Congress has funded a pipeline to the Navajo Nation, which is nearing completion. It will deliver water to the Shiprock area. In addition, the Southern Utes could access water from Lake Nighthorse by releasing it back into the Animas and taking it out of a river diversion, she said.

    However, the infrastructure for the Ute Mountain Utes was dropped from federal legislation in 2000, Heart said.

    The tribal leadership already has met with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R.-Cortez, and has plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R.-Colorado, this year to talk about the need to fund a delivery system.

    The additional water would allow for greater economic development on the reservation, Heart said. The reservation covers about 600,000 acres southwest of Cortez and has one of the largest farms in Montezuma County.

    Ute Mountain Ute Councilor Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk also voiced her appreciation of the resolution because the reservation currently has limited water resources. While securing water delivery is a priority for the tribe, she expects it to be years before the tribe receives an appropriation.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.

    The Southern Ute Tribe and Reclamation start negotiations for Animas-La Plata water

    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

    Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office announced today that it will initiate negotiations with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on a proposed contract for the Tribe’s statutory water allocation of the Animas-La Plata Project. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 8, 2014, at 1:30 p.m. at the Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Avenue, Durango, Colorado.

    The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water, and outline the terms and conditions of operation and maintenance payments for 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 under Current Focus or by contacting Ryan Christianson of the Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, Colorado, 81501, telephone (970) 248-0652.

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    Negotiators from the Southern Ute Native American Tribe and the Western Colorado area office of the Bureau of Reclamation opened negotiations Monday on the tribe’s use of water from Lake Nighthorse.

    The lake is a reservoir created two miles southwest of Durango as a settlement of Native American water-right claims. The reservoir holds 123,000 acre-feet of water for the Southern Utes, the Ute Mountain Utes, the Navajo Nation and nontribal entities, including the city of Durango.

    The tribes paid nothing to build the $500 million reservoir, but they will pay operation and maintenance costs once they start to use the water.

    The terms of storing and delivering water and the terms and conditions of operation and maintenance payments are being negotiated.

    Ryan Christianson from the Bureau of Reclamation said the session Monday is likely the first of many. The pace of talks and attention to detail Monday seem to bear him out.

    All negotiating sessions are open to the public and include 30 minutes for public comment at the end of each session.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Reclamation Announces Public Meeting on Lake Durango Water Pipeline

    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Phillip Rieger/Justyn Hock):

    Reclamation announced today that the public is invited to attend a meeting about La Plata West Water Authority’s proposal to construct a 4.6-mile raw water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango. The meeting is on Tuesday, November 18 at 6 p.m., in the Eolus Room at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
    The purpose of the public meeting is to provide information about the pipeline project. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, Reclamation is required to disclose the environmental impacts of the proposal and is in the process of developing an environmental assessment. Reclamation is seeking input from the public regarding issues or concerns that should be considered in the environmental assessment.

    LPWWA is proposing the water pipeline to meet the current and future needs for domestic water supply in western La Plata County. The proposed right-of-way project crosses lands administered by Reclamation as well as private property.

    Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted to Phillip Rieger Bureau of Reclamation, 185 Suttle St. Ste. 2, Durango, CO 81301.

    More Animas-La Plata project coverage here.

    Lake Nighthorse: No recreation plan yet, no recreation this season

    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

    From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

    Kathleen Ozga, resource manager with the bureau’s Western Colorado area, gave an update at a public meeting at the Durango Community Recreation Center. About 100 residents attended the meeting, and some asked questions that Ozga either couldn’t answer or declined to answer. However, some residents said they felt Ozga provided the information she could, and it was new to them.

    Opening Lake Nighthorse is not an option this year, and no timetable was presented. Ozga said a May 31 letter to the editor in The Durango Herald by Ed Warner, Western Colorado area manager for the bureau, that said the agency was committed to working with stakeholders and hoped to reach a consensus by early 2015 was a “little presumptuous.”

    “We would love to put a date up there, we would, but we can’t because we don’t know,” she said. “There’s too much uncertainty, for lack of a better word and too much level of detail we still need to work out.”

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.

    Reclamation Announces Public Meeting on Recreation at Lake Nighthorse

    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
    Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Justyn Hock)

    Reclamation will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 from 5 pm to 7 pm on recreation at Lake Nighthorse, part of the Animas-La Plata Project. The meeting will be at the Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Avenue, in the Eolus and Sunlight Meeting Rooms. Reclamation will provide a brief presentation, and the public will be able to ask questions and look at maps and plans about recreation at Lake Nighthorse.
    Currently, Reclamation is working with all Animas-La Plata Project partners and stakeholders to reach consensus regarding development and management of recreation at Lake Nighthorse. We believe we are nearing an agreement to integrate recreation into the project, while ensuring compatibility with the primary purposes of the project for municipal and industrial water supply.

    We are conducting regular meetings with partners and stakeholders to discuss and resolve a broad range of issues concerning water quality, environmental protection, and tribal trust responsibilities of the United States government. Many issues have been resolved and Reclamation continues to work on remaining issues, including working closely with Association members to ensure protection of cultural resources and annexation of project lands by the city of Durango for administration of recreation and law enforcement purposes.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.

    Animas-La Plata project: Sens. Udall and Bennet pen letter to Reclamation asking for quicker opening of Lake Nighthorse to recreation

    Lake Nighthorse first fill via The Durango Herald
    Lake Nighthorse first fill via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

    The frustration surrounding Lake Nighthorse found a fresh voice Thursday as Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet wrote to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation asking the agency to issue a plan for opening the reservoir for recreation soon. The letter says recreation on Lake Nighthorse could bring in up to $12 million each year to the local economy.

    “The completed Lake Nighthorse reservoir is conveniently located two miles from downtown Durango and presents a significant opportunity for a new public amenity,” the two Democrats wrote.

    The reservoir was filled in June 2011, but the parties involved, after years of talks, have yet to agree on major issues. However, bureau spokeswoman Justyn Hock said they seem to be close to finalizing the agreements. The agency plans a public meeting in June to update residents on negotiations.

    “We feel like the end is in sight,” Hock said. “We’re getting really close to having an agreement in place.”

    Lake Nighthorse is a reservoir with 1,500 surface acres created in Ridges Basin southwest of Durango by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide water for Native American tribes, cities and water districts in Colorado and New Mexico. Southwestern Water Conservation District owns the water rights. The water is allocated, but not owned, through project contracts to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Animas-La Plata Conservancy District, the state of Colorado, the San Juan Water Commission and the La Plata Conservancy District. The entities formed the Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association in 2009, which fronted money in anticipation of water purchases by the city of Durango and the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy.

    Calls to several Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association stakeholders were not returned.

    There are three agreements under negotiation: an annexation agreement, a lease agreement and memorandum of understanding.

    The city of Durango has offered to operate the park but wants to annex the area to provide police protection. The Utes have said annexation is unacceptable. There’s been conflict about who should run the park and be involved in making decisions. The Utes also have said they must be able to exercise Brunot Treaty rights to hunt on ancestral land.

    In a statement, the Southern Utes said important issues need to be addressed, including tribal treaty rights, protection of historic cultural resources, and operation of the project for the specific purposes for which it was built.

    “We’re working with the tribes in particular to make sure that we’re protecting their cultural resources,” Hock said…

    “While use of the lake for recreational purposes was contemplated during the reservoir planning process, it is not a specific project purpose,” said a Southern Ute Tribal Council statement from last year.
    Irrigation was cut because of environmental problems. Southwestern Water Conservation District was awarded the water rights to the A-LP project in a 1966 State District Water Court decree that allowed irrigation and recreation as water uses.

    “Unfortunately, the need to comply with applicable laws is not always well understood by those unfamiliar with these laws,” the Tribal Council statement said.

    The reservoir was filled in June 2011 but stayed closed while those involved bickered and delayed. But Cathy Metz, parks and recreation director, also believes progress is being made. After the lease agreement is signed, an inspection station and decontamination area needs to be built. The Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association received grant funding for the construction. The city also has received some grant funding from the state for some improvements to the park. The earliest it could open would be 2015.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    La Plata River: Construction of Long Hollow Reservoir expected to be complete by July

    Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald
    Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    Construction of the dam designed to corral 5,100 acre feet of runoff from two modest streams in this arid section of La Plata County is expected to be completed in July – two years after groundbreaking. Long Hollow Reservoir will be a water bank against which irrigators in the area can draw. They will be able to pull more water from the La Plata River, which must be shared with New Mexico because the reservoir can make up the difference…

    Brice Lee, president of the sponsoring La Plata Water Conservancy District, said the district has been pursuing the Long Hollow project since the 1990s when the irrigation-water component was removed from the larger and seemingly interminable Animas-La Plata Project, known as A-LP…

    Potentially, 500 to 600 irrigators could be interested in reservoir water, he said. A fixed fee would be set to cover maintenance and operations, plus a charge based on consumption. Irrigators who don’t go for the backup source of water will continue to take their chances with the fickle La Plata River.

    The reservoir will store water from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw, which drain 43 square miles east of Colorado Highway 140. The reservoir is about five miles north of the New Mexico line and a half-mile from the confluence of Long Hollow Creek and the La Plata River.

    An outlet on the left side of the dam feeds the natural channel of Long Hollow Creek below the dam, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service requirement aimed at maintaining aquatic life.

    Water also can be diverted into a high-flow pipeline if water demands from New Mexico exceed 10 to 12 cubic feet per second or if an emergency release were required.

    It was first estimated that the project would cost $22.5 million. The pot consisted of $15 million set aside by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority for future projects when the A-LP was downsized. Accrued interest and $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe completed the budget. But a bill making its way through the state Legislature is expected to contribute an additional $1.575 million to cover the expense of meeting unexpected difficulty in readying the dam’s bedrock foundation for construction.

    The dam is 151 feet high with a span of 800 feet. A central clay core is buttressed upstream and downstream by tons of sand, dirt and rock. Construction, which began in July 2012 with excavation down to bedrock, was followed by filling with grout under pressure fissures in the bottom and embankments of the dam to prevent leaking. Some grout holes were bored as deep as 120 feet. All construction material, with the exception of steel and concrete, come from on-site sources.

    The capricious flow of the La Plata River has produced verbal shoving matches between Colorado and New Mexico since the signing in 1922 of the compact that requires the states to share the river. Each state has unrestricted use of the water from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15. But from then until Dec. 1, if the river is flowing at less than 100 cubic feet per second at the state line, Colorado must deliver one-half the flow at Hesperus to New Mexico. Living up to the terms of the agreement isn’t easy.

    The La Plata River, which tumbles from its origin high in the mountains north of U.S. Highway 160, isn’t the most generous of sources at best. A porous river bed and thick vegetation grab an inordinate share of the flow. The growing season is longer than the period of river flow…

    The dam was designed by GEI Consultants, a national firm with a branch in Denver. The Weeminuche Construction Authority is the builder. Among the 50 crew members, 80 percent are Native American, with 65 percent being Ute Mountain Utes, said Aaron Chubbuck, the Weeminuche project manager.

    The construction engineer, hired by the water district, is Rick Ehat, who brought the A-LP to completion on time and on budget after an earlier administration fell disastrously behind on both counts.

    The finished dam may appear a monolithic structure. But it’s actually an amalgamation of “zones” comprised of dirt, rock, sand and clay with each ingredient serving a certain purpose.

    After the topping-out ceremony marks the completion of construction, the “borrow areas” where construction materials were taken will have to be revegetated. Also, certain electrical and mechanical work remains to be done. Among the tasks, sensors will be installed on the downstream face of the dam to measure possible movement or leakage…

    Unlike the Lake Nighthorse, the A-LP reservoir, which was filled by pumping water from the Animas River, Long Hollow Reservoir will depend on precipitation runoff and return flow from agricultural operations.

    The construction used 900,000 cubic yards of material, compared with 5.4 million cubic yards for Ridges Basin.

    While useful for its purpose, the 5,100 acre-feet of water behind Long Hollow dam is peanuts compared to the 123,541 acre-feet in Lake Nighthorse and the 125,000 acre-feet in Vallecito Reservoir.

    Depending on the weather, Ehat said, it could take five to seven years for the reservoir to fill from runoff from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw.

    More La Plata River watershed coverage here.

    Will Lake Nighthorse recreation facilities be online in by 2014?

    lakenighthorseusbr.jpg

    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug) via the Cortez Journal:

    Almost two years after the reservoir was filled in June 2011, local government officials have not allowed kayaking, bird watching or mountain biking on the 5,500-acre site. Lake Nighthorse might be a case of politics proving to be a bigger obstacle than the laws of physics.

    About two miles from downtown Durango, the lake is a temptation for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, but it is not yet accessible to the public. Officials now are saying 2014, but they have delayed the opening before.

    To venture onto the property without permission literally is a federal offense, although judging by footprints and pawprints, people and their dogs apparently have made the trek. “We’ve had to chase out people with kayaks and canoes,” said Tyler Artichoker, facilities manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

    After budgeting almost $200,000 to open the lake this summer, Durango Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz laid out a series of complications that has moved the goal of opening the lake to the summer of 2014. The city first must annex the land so it can provide law enforcement. The Bureau of Reclamation must approve a lease agreement with the city and do an environmental assessment of the city’s master recreation plan, which was developed after much public input and consensus building about the kinds of recreation to allow. Jet skis are out. The master plan calls for a “family beach” to distinguish it from other kinds of beaches. The bureau’s environmental assessment then must be made available for public comment, which is expected to happen in April.

    Once the bureau signs off on the lease agreement, the city plans to get assistance from the Colorado National Guard for help with land clearing. An entrance station and boat-inspection area also must be built with funding from a state grant…

    “If you can name a governmental entity, it has a stake in Lake Nighthorse,” Rinderle said.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Reclamation Announces Planned Test Release from Lake Nighthorse

    lakenighthorseafterfirstfill.jpg

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

    Reclamation’s Four Corners Construction Office will conduct a test flow release on July 23, from Lake Nighthorse, to continue evaluating the performance of the improvements constructed in Basin Creek to facilitate downstream water flow.

    The flow release test will continue for approximately one week depending on results, as part of the required testing and commissioning for the Animas-La Plata Project prior to the project’s transition to operational status. Released flows will range from 15 to 150 cubic-feet-per-second with the total release of water from Lake Nighthorse not to exceed 500 acre-feet. All flows released from the reservoir will pass through fish nets that ensure no escapement of live fish or eggs to the Animas River that could potentially impact endangered fish in the San Juan River.

    The Basin Creek improvements consist of a series of channel improvements and small check dams, or drop structures, and were constructed as part of the Animas-La Plata Project. The purpose of the improvements is to convey water released from Ridges Basin Dam down Basin Creek to the Animas River.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    The CWCB and the Bureau of Reclamation are finished hammering out the Animas-La Plata purchase agreement

    lakenighthorsedurangoherald.jpg

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Tim Feehan/Ted Kowalski/Todd Hartman):

    This week the State of Colorado and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation finalized a contract that allows the state to purchase of a portion of water from the Animas-La Plata (A-LP) Project in southwestern Colorado. This contract represents the completion of almost two years of intense negotiations, cooperation, and hard work on the part of Colorado Water Conservation Board staff and other stakeholders.

    The Animas-La Plata Project was built to fulfill a water rights settlement between the federal government and two Indian tribes that live in southwestern Colorado: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. But the project also has auxiliary benefits for other water users in the region as a much-needed municipal and industrial water source and reservoir for long-term storage in Lake Nighthorse. The state’s allocation of 10,460 acre-feet will go a long way toward securing a water supply for water users in the southwestern portion of the state.

    In 2010, the General Assembly authorized the expenditure of up to $36 million towards the purchase of the State’s 10,460 acre-feet allocation of A-LP project water. This Bill appropriated the first $12 million installment, which was available on June 30, 2011. Subsequent legislation appropriated the remaining $24 million, which will be available July 1, 2012. After the contract was signed and executed, the State made its first payment of $12 million to the Bureau.

    After July 1, 2012, the State will pay the final installment to the Bureau, retaining enough of the General Assembly’s appropriation for future operation and maintenance costs. The execution of the contract also grants membership to the State in the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association. Over the next few months, the State will work with other members of the Association to address issues such as engineering, modeling, water administration and protocol.

    For more information or background on the Animas-La Plata project, visit http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/ or the CWCB website at http://cwcb.state.co.us.

    From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    Colorado lawmakers had authorized paying $36 million for the state’s allocation of 10,460 acre-feet from the water storage and delivery project in southwest Colorado. Money for the final payment will be available after July 1. The contract announced by the state Wednesday makes Colorado part of a group that will operate and maintain the project.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    The Colorado Legislature intends to pony up $36 million for Animas-La Plata Project water

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    From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Durango Herald:

    Colorado’s Legislature has authorized paying $36 million to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for its share of 10,460 acre-feet of water, plus interest on construction costs. But the interest has been building, and the $36 million likely won’t cover everything Colorado owes.

    The tribes had proposed that Colorado allow its share of water to revert back to the tribes, which weren’t assessed for construction. The tribes then would sell the water back to the state at what they say would be a much lower price than what the state would pay the bureau.

    “When we heard what the state would spend to get water, our first thought was, ‘Why?’” said Peter Ortego, general counsel for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. “We can make it cheaper for the state. Sure, it puts money in our coffers, but it keeps it in Colorado.”

    However, after two years of talking with tribal representatives, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has directed its staff to move forward on contract talks with the Bureau of Reclamation, board director Jennifer Gimbel said.

    Gimbel said the board took the tribes’ proposal “very seriously.” However, some board members questioned whether outside parties would challenge the proposal in court. Though legislators already have approved $36 million for project water, some board members also questioned how willing legislators would be in future years to spend on Animas-La Plata Project water.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations Continue between Reclamation and Colorado

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    Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

    The Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Colorado are continuing negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project. The contract will provide the terms and conditions by which the state will repay the construction costs associated with all or a portion of its statutory allocation of project water. The third negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday August 10, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. at Reclamation’s office, 835 E. 2nd Ave., Suite 300, Durango, Colo. 81301.

    The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water, identify the amount of project construction costs to be paid to the federal government by the state, and provide for operation and maintenance 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 under Current Focus or by contacting Brett Griffin of the Bureau of Reclamation, 835 East Second Avenue, Suite 300, Durango, Colorado, 81301, telephone (970) 385-6531.

    More Animas-La Plata coverage here and here.

    Animas-La Plata Project: Colorado and Reclamation are getting close to a deal for storage in Lake Nighthorse

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    From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Columbus Republic:

    Colorado’s Legislature has authorized paying $36 million to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for its share of 10,460 acre-feet of water, plus interest on construction costs. But the interest has been building, and the $36 million likely won’t cover everything Colorado owes.

    The tribes had proposed that Colorado allow its share of water to revert back to the tribes, which weren’t assessed for construction. The tribes would then sell the water back to the state at what they say would be a much lower price than what the state would pay the bureau…

    However, after two years of talking with tribal representatives, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has directed its staff to move forward on contract talks with the Bureau of Reclamation, board director Jennifer Gimbel said.

    Gimbel said the board took the tribes’ proposal “very seriously.” However some board members questioned whether outside parties would challenge the proposal in court. Though legislators have already approved $36 million for project water, some board members also questioned how willing legislators would be in future years to spend on Animas-La Plata project water.

    If you’re interested in Native American issues in the Colorado River Basin please think about attending Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Speakers Series Monday night. The theme for the shindig is, “Unheard Voices of the Colorado River Basin: Bringing Mexico and Native American Tribes to the Table.” It should be a hoot, every presentation in the series so far has been.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Most of the storage for the Animas-La Plata Project was built to satisfy Native American water rights claims

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The project reflects a quiet but substantial shift of control over a crucial resource as the federal government tries to turn a new page with tribes. Six recent water settlements have forced the government to commit $2.04 billion for dam, pipeline and reservoir projects — giving sovereign tribes from Montana to New Mexico control over 1.5 million acre-feet of new water each year. Tribes have used lawsuits and hard bargaining to assert water rights. Now, with many Western rivers already over-subscribed, tribes are in a position to play a greater role in development…

    Since 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that tribes relocated to reservations in the 19th century are entitled to enough water to live on those lands. Only 29 of the nation’s 565 tribes have had claims settled. Future settlements could exhaust much of the remaining unallocated water. “The reality of water in most rivers in America, including the Colorado and Rio Grande, which are so important to Colorado, is that there’s not enough water to do everything that people want to do. We’re not going to create any more water supply,” said Salazar, a lawyer whose prior work as a U.S. Senator, state attorney general and natural resources director drew him into the issue. “Until (tribal claims for water) get quantified, there’s no certainty” for how much water will be available, Salazar said…

    The total population of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes is less than 6,000. They’re now in a position to pursue economic development, including extraction of gas, and sell water to others around Colorado. “Yes, we’re in the driver’s seat,” said Pearl Casias, chairwoman of the Southern Ute Tribe, which has about 1,481 members. There are 4,500 Ute Mountain Utes. Together, the tribes own about 70 percent of the water in Nighthorse reservoir…

    Over the past three years, federal negotiating teams led by Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Mike Connor settled six claims. The most recent Aamodt settlement, for about $176 million, involves four pueblos in the Pojoaque River basin of New Mexico — providing about 8,500 acre-feet of water. A separate $88 million settlement with the Taos Pueblo is meant to deliver 2,000 acre-feet a year. Earlier this year, federal negotiators settled for $460 million with the Crow in Montana, a deal obligating the government to supply 500,000 acre-feet of water. A 2009 settlement for $1 billion with the Navajo obligates the government to provide 606,000 acre-feet…

    This winter, Colorado officials and residents of Durango are expected to work at lining up shares of the water. The reservoir holds enough to sustain hundreds of thousands of people — far more than the current population of the area, Durango resident and businessman Kent Ford pointed out. “I’m all for the tribes getting their water rights,” Ford said. But building such a big reservoir for the purposes of a legal settlement may not make sense in the long run, he said. Mountain water might better have been left flowing in rivers to ensure healthy riparian ecosystems, he said. “We may come to look at this as another example of our society gone awry.”

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Durango voters approve ponying up $4 million for Animas-La Plata Project water

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    “We’re very pleased and grateful that the community rallied behind the proposition,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said Tuesday. “Generations to come will benefit from this action.”[…]

    The city is counting on borrowing money from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority at 1.95 percent. Over 20 years, the loan will cost almost $5 million.

    City officials say additional water is needed to satisfy demand at peak periods and to prepare for population growth. In the short term, officials want to have more water available than the 60 million gallons they can store now – a seven-day supply. During peak season, daily use is 9.5 million gallons.

    With the acquisition of 3,800 acre-feet of water from the Animas-La Plata Project, the city would have about 680 million gallons available.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.

    Durango: Voters are being asked to approve $4 million in debt to purchase water from the Animas-La Plata project

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    As it stands, the city can store 60 million gallons of water (180 acre-feet) – a seven-day supply. In peak season, daily use is 9.5 million gallons, counting irrigation. The purchase of 3,800 acre-feet from the A-LP, as it’s known, would make 1,900 acre-feet available for consumption. Only half of any A-LP water may be used annually. The other half must remain in Lake Nighthorse, the reservoir southwest of Durango…

    The cost of 3,800 acre-feet is about $6.2 million. The city has paid $1 million and has $1.2 million available from a surplus in its water fund. The $4 million balance would be borrowed. Durango paid the $1 million in 2005 in anticipation of buying A-LP water, city Director of Public Works Jack Rogers said Friday. It was cheaper to install the needed plumbing at the A-LP pumping plant while it was being built than retrofitting, he said. If the city can borrow from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, the rate would be 1.95 percent for 20 years, a total cost of almost $5 million. Debt service would be funded from water rates and plant investment fees (charged to new development).

    Homeowners pay from $2.12 to $2.78 per 1,000 gallons depending on consumption. No increase in water rates is planned for 2012.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

    Durango voters are being asked to approve a $4 million loan to purchase water from the Animas-La Plata Project

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    From The Durango Telegraph (Missy Votel):

    This year’s ballot, which is mail-in only, will contain a measure from the City of Durango asking residents to approve a $4 million loan to be used to buy 3,800 acre feet annually from the project. City Charter requires a vote of the electorate before assuming debt. The $4 million would be borrowed from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, a state agency established to promote water and power development in Colorado. As such, the city will get a more favorable rate than it would on the open market. The 20-year loan will be at an interest rate of 1.95 percent, making for total repayment of just under $5 million…

    The 3,800 acre-feet would supplement the City’s current municipal and agricultural use of about 5,000 acre-feet per year. According to a 2003 study, an additional 3,800 acre-feet is the amount needed to meet the needs of a projected population of 40,000. Currently, the City serves its nearly 17,000 residents plus another couple thousand in adjacent areas for a total of about 19,000 customers, Rogers said. However, if Durango keeps on its current growth rate – 20 percent from 2000-2010, according to U.S. Census data – it could need additional water well before reaching the 40,000 mark. Rogers estimated the City’s water capacity at 25,000 users during the summer. “That’s only 6,000 more. When we reach that number, we’ll need to invest in other supplies,” he said. In addition to concerns over meeting growing demand, Rogers said there is also concern over security. Right now, the City has only a seven-day supply of water in its reservoir on College Mesa. The A-LP purchase would ensure an additional 75 days.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.

    Ty Churchwell — ‘It is not worth offending someone who agrees with me on most issues to take a stance on climate change or global warming’

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    From The Durango Herald (Lynda Edwards):

    …conservationists have tried dozens of ways to restore trout to the Animas and its tributaries. After World War II, cowboys helping the U.S. Wildlife Service would carry hatchery or farmed trout in cast-iron jugs on their horses into the mountains, where they released the fish into Animas headwaters. Tanker trucks and helicopters with huge buckets also have been used to plop trout into the river and its tributaries…

    [Ty] Churchwell, who has degrees in horticulture and chemistry, refuses to discuss climate change. He won’t even say whether he believes it exists…

    “To get my work done, I need to be able to sit at the table and forge alliances with people who have very different ideas about global warming,” Churchwell said. “It is not worth offending someone who agrees with me on most issues to take a stance on climate change or global warming.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.

    Animas River watershed: Part two of series about the river, ‘Want water, take a number’ from The Durango Herald

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    Here’s Part Two of the four part series about the Animas River from Dale Rodebaugh and The Durango Herald. Mr. Rodebaugh outlines how uses of the river have changed over time, from prehistoric times to the filling of Lake Nighthorse (full on June 29 this year), part of the Animas-La Plata Project. Here’s an excerpt:

    Durango’s early exploitation of the Animas was as a conduit to get logs to sawmills, where they were turned into lumber and railroad ties.

    Today, most of the water pulledfrom the river is for irrigation and consumption, but the city of Durango in 2007 obtained a decree that guarantees a certain amount of flow for a whitewater park at Smelter Rapid. Several entities have won such rights for recreation since legislation establishing recreation rights was enacted in2001.

    Also, a certain amount of water is reserved to protect two fish species in the San Juan River – the Colorado pikeminnow and humped-back chub,which are federally listed as endangered.

    Click through for the whole article and the slide show.

    Here’s a look at how the USGS measures streamflow, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

    The USGS maintains more than 7,000 gauging stations on rivers and lakes across the country. The Durango office manages 41 stations in La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties.

    The station near U.S. Highway 550 and 14th Street went into service in 1895, only six years after the first one ever was installed in New Mexico on the Rio Grande River to help determine whether there was sufficient water for irrigation.

    The USGS computerized its gauging nationally in 1983 and first made real-time data available online in 1995.

    Click through for the whole article and the video of hydrologic technician Jennifer Dansie at work on calibration chores.

    Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering superfund status for parts of the upper Animas River watershed, according to Mark Esper writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

    And EPA officials said that while the collaborative approach to water quality in the upper Animas spearheaded by the Animas River Stakeholders Group has been successful, the worsening situation on Cement Creek has compelled the agency to study a possible Superfund listing.

    “The problem is worsening water quality,” said Sabrina Forrest, site assessment manager for the EPA in Denver. Forrest explained that while the EPA considers the problem to be worthy of the National Priorities List (NPL) under the Superfund law, local support would be required as well as a sign-off from the governor.

    “It’s eligible for listing, but community support is needed for that,” Forrest said. And if the Gladstone sites were to be eventually put on the NPL “the community would still have a huge voice on how this would be done.”[…]

    Meanwhile, the EPA is planning a Sept. 16 site tour at Gladstone for those interested in getting a better idea of the situation on the ground up there. Forrest says the EPA hopes it can determine by Dec. 20 if there is enough local support for NPL listing to proceed. Under that timetable, the listing could be made official by March 2012.

    The preliminary assessment work focused on a cluster of mine sites at and above Gladstone, including the American Tunnel, Gold King Number 7 level, the Mogul and Grand Mogul and the Red and Bonita mines. Peter Butler of Durango, a steering committee member for the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which was formed as a collaborative approach to water quality issues in 1994, said Cement Creek has seen a steady increase in metals loading since a treatment plant at Gladstone was shut down in 2004. Up to 845 gallons per minute of acid mine drainage is pouring into Cement Creek from just four abandoned mines above Gladstone…

    At this point, Butler said possible solutions include various scenarios for a water treatment plant on Cement Creek, bulkheads for the four mines discharging the most, or some combination of that. Then comes the question of who pays. Butler said options include seeking damages from Sunnyside Gold’s parent company, Kinross; luring a large mining company to reopen the Gold King and take on the cleanup liability; taking an incremental approach with a pilot treatment project that could be expanded; invoking Superfund; or a combination thereof.

    Todd Hennis of Golden, who described himself as the “unfortunate owner of the Gold King and Mogul mines,” said the EPA has been spinning “fairy tales.” “The problem started in 2000 when water started coming out of the Mogul,” Hennis said. He said that was a result of the American Tunnel bulkheads causing water to back up. The water table has since risen an estimated 1,000 feet, causing acid mine drainage to seep from ever higher points on the mountain. Hennis accused state officials of engaging in “pollution trading” with Sunnyside Gold, with a consent decree letting the mining firm off the hook for water quality problems in the Gladstone area. “The state of Colorado has a huge responsibility for this situation,” Hennis said. “Sunnyside walked out of this district and their $5 million bond was returned.” Hennis said the best solution would be for a mining firm to reopen the Gold King and assume responsibility for the water quality issues. Hennis said he thinks there is $700 million in gold still retrievable from the Gold King mine.

    Here’s an article that details the course of the Animas River, including the geology, from its headwaters to the San Juan River, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    At one time, [David Gonzales, a professor and chairman of the geosciences department at Fort Lewis College] said, gravel impelled by a glacier created a dam to form a lake in the Animas Valley. Later erosion of the debris drained the lake but caused the relatively flat and wide channel. The farthest reaching glacier, which receded about 12,000 years ago, carried gravel as far as 32nd Street, Gonzales said.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here.

    Animas River watershed: ‘Our river is ailing’ part one of a four part series from The Durango Herald

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    Here’s the link to part one of Dale Rodebaugh’s four part series running in The Durango Herald. The focus is mining and agricultural runoff. Here’s an excerpt:

    In 1978, Lake Emma, under which miners had bored the Sunnyside tunnel, collapsed. The ensuing torrent of water spewed timbers, equipment and tons of debris from the mine. Miraculously, no lives were lost because it occurred on a weekend.

    When Sunnyside Mining Co. closed its operations in Silverton in 1991, it was facing an annual expense of $800,000 to treat 1,200 to 1,600 gallons a minute of contaminated waste.

    Instead, the company negotiated a court decree with the state to install bulkheads to plug draining adits.

    Todd Hennis, who has an ownership stake in a couple of the leaking mines, said that agreement in the mid-’90s was a grievous error because it allowed a $5 million bond to be returned to Sunnyside despite the potential for future contamination.

    Later contracts with other companies to treat waste didn’t work out, and since 2004, contaminants have been flowing freely from the mines.

    Click through and read the whole article. They’re also running a slideshow and video.

    More Animas River watershed coverag here