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.

    Mancos water district continues reservoir title transfer — The Cortez Journal

    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR
    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

    From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):

    This summer, the Mancos Water Conservancy District has continued investigating a possible title transfer for the Jackson Gulch Project, Superintendent Gary Kennedy said Wednesday.

    The district has been pursuing a transfer of ownership from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, so that the district could be the sole owner of the reservoir project. It’s a lengthy process that could take five years or more and requires an act of Congress, Kennedy said.

    One issue with the transfer is what would become of federal lands that have been withdrawn to become part of the project, Kennedy said.

    “Our concern is that if we took the title, that land would stay with the project, instead of going back to the Forest Service,” he said.

    The MWCD board also has had general discussions about other issues regarding the transfer, including liability.

    No funds have been committed to the title transfer, and the process is still in baby steps, Kennedy said. Either party — the Bureau of Reclamation or the MWCD — can withdraw from the process at any time, he said.

    Some funding may come through in the next three to four years for the project rehabilitation effort, Kennedy said. The next item the district is focusing on rehabilitating is the reservoir inlet chute.

    The cost to get those chutes into top shape would be about $1.2 million, which could be funded by both Bureau of Reclamation grants and MWCD funds, Kennedy said. The district has put in a request for funding to the BOR, he said.

    A contractor is on site working on rock mitigation around the project site, especially in West Mancos Canyon, Kennedy said. People are asked not to go in the canyon when there is work taking place there, and signs are posted around the site to make people aware, Kennedy said.

    Mancos Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR
    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

    From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):

    The Mancos Water Conservancy District board voted to put up for lease 150 acre-feet of water from the Jackson Gulch project, district Superintendent Gary Kennedy said.

    The board approved the water lease at their meeting June 14. District officials will be going out to see if people need extra water, though they might not need extra because of the wet spring season, Kennedy said.

    The board and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation found agreement on project water rights for Jackson Reservoir, Kennedy said. The rights will be assigned to the water district from the federal government, he said.

    Also at the meeting, the board discussed the title transfer for the project, Kennedy said. The title transfer is an ongoing issue that will take many years to resolve.

    The district had hoped to complete some appraisals of land associated with the project this summer, but that hit a snag, Kennedy said. The cost for the appraisals is almost double what the board anticipated, and another government agency will be involved, he said. Even if the board decides to pay the new price for the appraisals, Kennedy could not say how long that would take.

    The district is planning a party to celebrate 75 years of the water district. The celebration will take place July 16 at noon at Jackson Gulch Reservoir on Road N north of Mancos. There will be a barbecue as well as some educational information on the history of the district. RSVP is requested by emailing Kennedy at gary.mwcd@gmail.com or calling 970-533-7325.

    District officials also will be working on clearing the inlet canals to the reservoir this summer, Kennedy said. The reservoir’s two drop chutes also need some work, but that might not take place until 2019, when the district could receive money from the federal government to rehabilitate the chutes, Kennedy said.

    Board member Boe Hawkins was reappointed to a four-year board term at the meeting.

    The reservoir’s jet valve was rebuilt over the winter, and some safety issues came up with the valve, Kennedy said. After investigation, the valve was operating normally and there were no major problems, he said.

    The hydro lease of the power permit for the project is still moving forward and the board is still working on it, Kennedy said. At next month’s board meeting July 12, board members will elect officers.

    Mancos working to upgrade water system for $530,600 — The Cortez Journal

    Mancos and the Mesa Verde area
    Mancos and the Mesa Verde area

    From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

    The aging Mancos water system is getting a financial boost from regional agencies, and it may receive more money from the state.

    The town is looking to improve its raw water system, replace a major valve that reduces pressure, and install new water-distribution lines on the south side of town.

    The entire project is estimated to be about $530,600, said Town Clerk and Treasurer Heather Alvarez.

    So far, the Southwest Water Conservation District has granted the project $75,000, and the Southwest Basin Roundtable has agreed to pitch about $81,800. The town currently has an application pending with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for about $265,000.

    If the town receives the state grant, it have to cover about $108,324 of the project.

    The town would like to finish design work for the project this year and be ready to start construction in 2017, said Town Administrator Andrea Phillips

    The lines the town is looking to replace are at the end of their useful life, and replacing them should help cut down on the need for repairs…

    Improving the raw water system should also help stop the spills at the raw water inlet, she said.

    In addition, the valve responsible for taking water pressure down from 120 pounds per square inch to 55 pounds per square inch will be replaced with three valves to create greater redundancy in the system, said Public Works Director Robin Schmittel.

    The town completed two major water infrastructure projects last year. It installed a new $1.1 water storage tank, replaced all the town’s water meters and rebuilt 100 water meter pits. The pits are plastic cylinders that protect the water meters in the ground.

    In 2014, the town adopted a four-year plan to increase water rates in order to pay for water infrastructure improvements. The February bill from the town of Mancos will reflect a $2.50 increase.

    Reclamation: On this day in 1940, the Mancos Project in Colorado water approved. #ColoradoRiver

    Jackson Gulch Reservoir: “The bureau used to be a friend. Not anymore.” — Dee Graf

    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR
    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

    From The Mancos Times (Mary Shinn):

    The Mancos Water Conservancy District board on Thursday weighed the consequences of taking ownership of Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the dam, the canal system and the land it sits on from the federal government.

    If the district worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to take ownership, the district would have to take over all the contracting and inspections…

    The Bureau of Reclamation currently budgets $160,000 a year to manage the irrigation project, and and $150,000 a year for recreational use of the lake.

    Kennedy estimates that if the district did all the work the bureau does for irrigation and water management, it would cost $20,000 to $40,000 because the district wouldn’t have as much administrative overhead. The district doesn’t plan to cover any of Mancos’ state parks expenses if the board pursues the transfer of ownership.

    A major question the board members tried to address at the Thursday workshop was: What value does the Bureau of Reclamation add to the project?

    They determined it isn’t a reliable source of funding…

    If the district took ownership of the project, it would still be subject to some state inspections for dam safety.

    Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation does regular inspections, but the district is responsible for maintenance or replacement. For example, the district paid $3 million for the recent rehabilitation project.

    There is one exception to the maintenance rule. The Bureau of Reclamation would step in if the dam started to experience a failure. But the agency would also send the district a bill for half the cost, and it would be due in three years…

    At an initial meeting about the transfer with James Hess, a bureau representative from Washington, Hess said the transfer process can take years.

    Only 27 other water projects in the nation have been fully transferred from the federal government to a local organization.

    More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.

    Mancos Water Conservancy District water workshop recap

    mancosrivermontezumacountyconservationdistricts.jpg

    From The Mancos Times (Jeanne Archambeault):

    Gary Kennedy, superintendent of the Mancos Water Conservancy District (MWCD) , started the day off with a talk about the organization and what it does for the Mancos Valley. He gave information and statistics about Jackson Gulch Reservoir – how much water it can hold, what it holds now, and where the water comes from. He said the MWCD is #36 priority for water and can capture about 250 cubic feet of water from the Mancos River between March and May. The MWCD fills water priorities as they come up and are called in…

    Mike Rich, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) gave a talk about what’s been going on in the last 10 years with the Mancos River and the watershed that surrounds it.

    Then, Kirsten Brown, of the Colorado Department of Reclamation Mining and Safety, and Cathy Zillich, of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gave an extensive talk about the East Mancos River and the mining impacts on it. Ann Oliver talked about the Middle Mancos River and the management measures they are doing.

    George San Miguel talked about the part of the Mancos River that runs through Mesa Verde National Park, and Colin Laird, a water quality specialist, talked about the lower watershed on the Ute Mountain Ute land.

    The workshop was the beginning of an an ongoing discussion. There will be more workshops and informational sessions to come.

    More Mancos River Watershed coverage here.