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.

The Water Information Program August/September 2019 Newsletter is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Southwestern Water Conservation District Hires New Executive Director

Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) is pleased to announce the confirmation of their new Executive Director, Frank Kugel.

Frank Kugel. Photo credit: Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District

Kugel was the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for almost 13 years, and is a registered Professional Engineer with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Colorado – Denver. Frank was involved in construction engineering in the Denver area before joining the Colorado Division of Water Resources as a Dam Safety Engineer. He served in the Denver and Durango offices of DWR before moving to Montrose where he ultimately became Division 4 Engineer for the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores Basins. Frank joined the UGRWCD upon leaving DWR in 2006. He was a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable since its inception and chair of its Basin Implementation Planning Subcommittee.

WIP had a brief chat with Frank to give you a bit more information. Here are a few questions and answers from our conversation.

WIP: What experience and knowledge do you bring to the District?

Frank: I have been the General Manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the past 13 years. During that time I worked on local and statewide water issues and reported to an 11-member board. Prior to that, I was Division Engineer for Water Division 4, encompassing the Gunnison, San Miguel and lower Dolores River basins. As Division Engineer, I frequently attended SWCD board meetings and the SW seminar. Before that, I lived in Durango for 11 years while inspecting dams for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

WIP: As the new Executive Director of SWCD, what is your vision for the district?

Frank: My vision as Executive Director is to build upon the many successes accomplished by the Southwestern Water Conservation District. I intend to work closely with the board of directors in developing policies that will help guide the district. Instream flows and drought contingency planning are two of the areas that could benefit from policy guidance.

WIP: What are some of your top priorities with/or within the district?

Frank: A top priority for me is to reach out to the local communities. I plan to attend a county commissioner meeting in each of the nine counties within my first year at the district. Working on Colorado River issues will also be a high priority.

WIP: What do you foresee being challenges?

Frank: Facing a future with reduced water supplies due to climate change, coupled with increasing population, is a challenge for all of Colorado. The Southwest District can play a lead role in educating our constituents about this pending gap between water supply and demand and how the District can mitigate its impact.

We welcome Frank Kugel to SWCD and wish him all the best in his new position!

Southwestern Water Conservation District Area Map. Credit: SWCD

@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

#Runoff news: Flood advisories issued for the Dolores, Animas, and La Plata rivers, #LakePowell elevation moving up #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Durango Herald:

The National Weather Service on Saturday issued flood advisories for the Mancos, Animas and La Plata rivers, and residents reported flooding along the Dolores River about 10 miles north of town.

“We have major flooding on Road 37, Dolores, 10 miles north of Dolores,” Jeffrey L. Jahraus told The Journal. Eight to 10 properties were getting water, he said.

The flooding began Tuesday and has continued intermittently, Jahraus said. About a half-acre of his neighbor’s property was under water.

Flooding has happened at their property once or twice before, he said, but never like this. The Jahrauses live along Road 37, right by where the now-famous rock slide happened on Memorial Day Weekend…

At the gauge in Dolores, the river was flowing Saturday morning at 4,200 cubic feet per second, about 256% the average June 8 rate of 1,604 cfs. Saturday afternoon, it reached 6.7 feet at the gauge, more that a foot shy of the 8-foot flood stage…

Meanwhile, flood advisories continued Saturday until further notice for the Mancos, Animas and La Plata rivers.

Mancos River
The river flow along the Mancos River was expected to remain near to slightly above bankfull, and minor lowland flooding was possible. Saturday morning, the river was at 5.3 feet – several inches above bankfull – and flood stage was at 6 feet. The river was expected to rise to about 5.4 feet around midnight Sunday.

La Plata River
A flood advisory also continued Saturday for the La Plata River at Hesperus. The flows along the La Plata River were expected to remain slightly above bankfull, and flooding is possible, the National Weather Service said. Bankfull stage is 5 feet, and flood stage is 5.5 feet. Saturday morning, the river was at 5.1 feet and expected to rise to nearly 5.3 feet by Monday morning.

Animas River
The Animas River was flowing Saturday at 6.6 feet. The National Weather Service said the river was expectd to reach 6.93 feet by Sunday morning, a foot shy of the flood stage of 8 feet. Moderate flooding would occur at 9 feet, and major flooding at 10.5 feet. The record height of the Animas is 11 feet, the weather service says.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

From the Brigham Young University The Daily Universe (Josh Carter):

Lake Powell is benefitting considerably from this year’s runoff following a strong snow year in the Rocky Mountains. The lake has risen 16 feet in the last month and is experiencing an inflow of 128% the average. While water levels are expected to continue to rise until the peak month of July, there is still a long way to go before the lake reaches full capacity.

“This year definitely helps,” said Bureau of Reclamation Public Affairs Officer Marlon Duke.
“But people need to keep in mind that when we came into this season Lake Powell was about 140 feet low. Even after this year, we’re going to be about 100 feet below full pool. So what we really need is three or four years just like this in a row.”

Lake Powell is currently stuck in the worst drought of its 56-year history. Its water levels and inflow have dropped significantly since the summer of 1999 — the last time Lake Powell was essentially full at 97% of capacity. The lake hit an all-time low in 2005 when its elevation sank to 3,555 feet, 145 feet below full pool.

The lake did experience a spike during the summer of 2010, when its levels got within 40 feet of full capacity. The drought has since continued, however, affecting not only Lake Powell but its sister reservoir Lake Mead as well.

“In 2000, when the drought started, Lake Powell and Lake Mead were both full,” Duke said. “Today Lake Powell is about 42% full and Lake Mead is even lower than that. Before we can start talking about whether or not the drought is over we need those reservoirs to be full again.”

Lake Mead was formed in 1935 and Lake Powell in 1963 after the completion of the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams, respectively, along the Colorado River. They were created in hopes to store and provide water for the Colorado River Basin states during times of drought. Lake Powell predominately serves the Upper Basin states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, while Lake Mead provides for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.

The Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963 and subsequently caused the formation of Lake Powell. Photo credit: Esri Photo Library/Flickr via Brigham Young University

While both man-made reservoirs have served their purpose throughout the current drought, experts are thankful for this year’s runoff after a particularly low year in 2018.

“We’re coming off of 2018 which was the second-driest year ever since we’ve been keeping records in the Basin,” Duke said. “We were worried because if we had another year like 2018 then that would have really put us in some trouble.”

The drought hasn’t been the only threat to the lake’s water levels in recent years. A couple different proposals and campaigns are calling for Lake Powell to be drained and to distribute its water to Lake Mead and elsewhere.

“Fill Mead First” is a campaign first started in 1996 to encourage conversation about restoring the dammed Glen Canyon to its natural state. As the drought continued, the campaign has gained traction, arguing that Lake Mead needs more water from Lake Powell to ensure big cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego have enough. The campaign also argues that Lake Powell loses water through both rapid evaporation and water seeping into the porous sandstone walls.

BYU geology professor Gregory Carling talked about the potential benefits that could come from restoring Glen Canyon to what it once was.

“When the Glen Canyon Dam was built, it not only flooded one of the most beautiful canyons in the world but also thousands of archeological sites and side canyons,” Carling said. “Also, the way it is now with Lake Powell and Lake Mead half-full, both are losing lots of water through evaporation. So there probably is some sense in looking into what the benefits would be of draining Lake Powell and filling Lake Mead.”

Carling added, however, the proposal would have to go through a lengthy legislative process in order for anything to change.

“There are a lot of legal requirements and bureaucracy behind that, so it’s not just as easy as saying, ‘let’s drain one and fill up the other,’” Carling said. “You’d have to go back through a hundred years of the law of the river.”

Those opposing the “Fill Mead First” campaign argue that Lake Powell, one of the most popular boating and camping spots in Utah, supports the local economy through both recreation and tourism. The lake saw over 4 million visitors during each of the past two years for the first time in its history. Lake Powell supporters also argue the lake ensures a steady water supply to Lake Mead and the Lower Basin states.

Lake Powell attracts millions of boaters and tourists every year. Photo credit:Bernard Spragg/Flickr via Brigham Young University

The Lake Powell Pipeline is another proposal aimed at transferring water from Lake Powell to nearby Kane and Washington Counties in southern Utah. The proposed pipeline would run approximately 140 miles underground and deliver over 82,000 acre-feet of water per year to Washington County and 4,000 acre-feet of water per year to Kane County.

The proposal did take a hit last year when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled it would need greater oversight from other federal land agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service. Officials expect a final decision to be made on the project by 2020.

Even amid the recent controversies experts hope the Colorado River Basin can take full advantage of its water resources, especially in times of drought. Representatives from all seven Colorado River Basin states recently met to sign drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Basins.

“This brings us one step closer to supporting agriculture and protecting the water supplies for 40 million people in the United States and Mexico,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Working together remains the best approach for all those who rely on the Colorado River.”

From The Farmington Daily Times (John R. Moses):

“The City of Farmington has temporarily closed sections of trails in Berg Park due to rising water levels.” City spokesperson Georgette Allen said in a press release June 7. “Trails on the north side of the Animas River near the All Veterans Memorial Plaza will be closed throughout the weekend.”

#Runoff news: The melt is on, La Plata, Animas, and Gunnison rivers merit advisories

From The Durango Herald:

A flood advisory has been issued for the La Plata River near Hesperus as rising temperatures and increasing snowmelt have pushed the river toward flood stage.

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction said flows along the La Plata River will remain near to slightly above the bank throughout the rest of the week, with the possibility for minor lowland flooding.

As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, a river gauge measured the flow of the La Plata River at 5 feet. A flood stage for the waterway is considered 5½ feet…

The Animas River in Durango was flowing at about 1,500 cubic feet per second Saturday. As of Tuesday morning, the river had reached more than 5,000 cfs and is expected to peak around 7,000 cfs later in the week.

Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County’s Office of Emergency Management, said Monday that the Animas River begins to spill out onto some areas of the Animas Valley around 7,000 cfs.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Animas River…was at about 1,500 cubic feet per second Saturday. On Tuesday, the river was running at more than 5,000 cfs and is expected to keep rising.

By the end of the week, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Prediction Center is calling for the Animas to hit nearly 7,000 cfs. (The Animas River usually hits a peak flow of about 4,700 cfs in early June at the height of spring runoff.)

[…]

If the Animas does reach 7,000 cfs, it would mark the largest peak since 2005 in the April-to-July snowmelt window, when the river hit 8,070 cfs on May 26. The last big water year was in 2015 when the Animas peaked at 6,210 cfs on June 12.

The Animas River at 7,000 cfs starts to spill out on the low-lying areas and fields in the lower Animas Valley north of Durango, Knowlton said. At 8,000 cfs, areas around Trimble Lane start to flood.

The water flow for the Animas River to be considered in a flood stage is about 10,500 cfs, Knowlton said. While the river may not hit that mark this year, there is a wild-card type scenario that has emergency managers concerned.

From KJCT8.com (Matt Vanderveer):

The National Weather Service has issued a river flood advisory for the Gunnison River in Mesa County. Water flows are expected to increase throughout the week.

“Some may start to get above bank full by this weekend. But it’s just something we’re monitoring. It’s not a sharp increase where we expect to see flooding in a couple of days. We are starting to see runoff and an increase in higher flows and higher levels,” said Matthew Aleksa, National Weather Service Grand Junction.

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.

Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

@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.

Long Hollow Reservoir late season augmentation water working as planned

Long Hollow location map via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

In the 1960s, irrigators in southwestern La Plata County had their dreams dashed when plans for a major transmountain diversion, which would have taken water from the Animas River into the low-flow La Plata River, were quashed.

The water project – called the Animas-La Plata Project – was considered the last major water storage effort in the American West. Then in 1990, the project was downsized again, removing plans for irrigation out of Lake Nighthorse.

“That’s when we started thinking seriously about this,” said Brice Lee, president of the La Plata Water Conservancy District.

Irrigators on the western side of the county have historically had to rely on the La Plata River, a generous moniker for a relatively low-flow waterway that is reduced to a trickle, and even dries up, after a short spring runoff.

Yet despite the lack of natural flows, the water has been terribly over-appropriated.

In the 1920s, Congress approved a water compact that requires the state of Colorado to deliver one-half of the daily flow of the La Plata River, measured at Hesperus, to the New Mexico state line for the use of irrigators to the south.

However, Colorado, which must live up to those terms from Feb. 1 to Dec. 1, has not always made good on that requirement for a number of reasons, including drought and water demands.

As a result, Long Hollow Dam was concocted in the 1990s, with construction starting in 2012. It cost nearly $23 million. Funds set aside from the Animas-La Plata Project paid for the 151-foot-high, 800-foot-wide dam.

The reservoir, located along Colorado Highway 140, has a capacity of nearly 5,400 acre-feet – small change when you consider Vallecito Reservoir has a capacity of 125,000 acre-feet and Lake Nighthorse, also relatively new, has a capacity of 123,541 acre-feet.

Still, the stored water in Long Hollow Dam functions as a win-win water exchange.

About 100 to 150 irrigators in southwestern La Plata County can draw and divert water out of the La Plata River farther north of Long Hollow Dam.

Then, to meet the terms of the compact, water is released from the Long Hollow Dam into the La Plata River, which takes water from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw, tiny tributaries of the La Plata River that drain 43 square miles east of Colorado Highway 140.

Lee said thanks to strong winter snowfall and spring rains, Long Hollow Dam was able send 2,000 acre-feet to New Mexico this year. That means irrigators in southwestern La Plata County were able to use an additional 2,000 acre-feet out of the La Plata River.

“We’re pretty pleased,” he said. “We had a good year.”

The uptick in available water has had a predictably positive affect for ranchers and farmers, extending the growing season anywhere from 10 to 14 days – a vital extension in an industry that runs on margins.

“This is helping families that were drying up and getting discouraged,” said Ron Crawford, a fourth-generation La Plata County resident who is in charge of dam maintenance.

Taylor, whose father, Bobby, sold the land for the dam, said he was able to produce 30 to 40 percent more hay and grain than in years past because of the water Long Hollow Dam freed up.

@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.

@USBR: Lake Nighthorse Recreation Management Lease Agreement Signed

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

Here’s the release from the USBR:

Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office and City of Durango finalized and signed a lease agreement for recreation management at Lake Nighthorse on January 27, 2017. The 25 year agreement transfers recreation management and related responsibilities to the city; including developing, construction and maintaining facilities and other improvements within the recreation area. Under the agreement, the city will ensure that recreation area administration and associated land use comply with all applicable Federal and State laws and regulations.

The agreement is contingent on the city annexing approximately 500 acres of land at Lake Nighthorse including 1,500 water surface acres in order to provide management, law enforcement and emergency services at Lake Nighthorse. WCAO and the city will begin the annexation process soon. The WCAO is currently in the process of negotiating a new Programmatic Agreement with the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office that will cover Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act compliance for the ongoing operations and maintenance of the Animas La-Plata Project, as well as for the recreation plan. When enacted this Programmatic Agreement will replace the Programmatic Agreement that was originally developed for the construction of the project. The WCAO is conducting tribal consultations with 25 tribes on the cultural resources management plan and Programmatic Agreement for the area.

In December 2016, WCAO released the Finding of No Significant Impact and final Environmental Assessment for the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Plan. The selected alternative is the 2014 Recreation Plan proposed by the City of Durango. The 2014 Recreation Plan recommends implementing a small-scale, staged approach to the development of recreational opportunities and facilities, while protecting water quality, cultural resources, and the primary purposes of Lake Nighthorse.

Recreation development will include: public restrooms, and overflow parking area for the boat ramp, access road improvements, and development of a courtesy dock system at the boat ramp. Recreation activities will be day use only and include: canoeing, kayaking, rowing, sculling, and stand-up-paddle boarding; swimming and scuba diving; and fishing. Motorized boating would be allowed, however, the lake will be closed to all motorized boating from late fall to late spring.

Southwestern Water Conservation District board shuffled

San Juan wildflowers.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

Board President John Porter and Vice President Steve Fearn, representatives of Montezuma and San Juan counties, respectively, were voted off the board by commissioners in their respective counties.

Fearn, a prominent longtime coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, has represented San Juan County on the water conservation board since 1990 and served as vice president since 2007.

But San Juan County commissioners said Fearn’s representation no longer reflects county values, which have changed significantly since Silverton’s mining days to include more recreational interests with respect to water, county attorney Paul Sunderland said…

Commissioners voted to appoint Charlie Smith, part-time Silverton resident and eight-year general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, as Fearn’s replacement.

“Commissioners thought Charlie Smith would better represent San Juan County,” Sunderland said. “He has a lot of water expertise, and he’s probably more in tune with the wants of the current board. Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests, but the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”

The fact that the state of New Mexico named Fearn in a lawsuit as a “potentially responsible party” for mine pollution in the Gladstone area was noted in the county’s decision, Sunderland said.

“It’s definitely something we’re aware of, given his ownership interests around Gladstone,” he said…

The board consists of nine members representing Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan and San Miguel counties. Board directors can serve an unlimited number of three-year terms.

“I want to make sure the county’s views are represented,” Smith told The Durango Herald. “I have an understanding of their water rights, and a lot of work needs to be done to secure those rights and make sure the uses align with what the county envisions.”

Montezuma County commissioners selected Don Schwindt to replace Porter, who was general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District for 22 years and a Southwestern board director for 26.

Schwindt is a director on the Dolores Water Conservancy District board and a critic of the Dolores National Conservation Area, a controversial proposal in Montezuma County to congressionally protect land and water along the lower Dolores…

Porter thinks the proposal, criticized by Montezuma County commissioners, influenced his removal. Under Porter’s leadership, Southwestern Water Conservation District contributed funds to hire a water attorney to rewrite draft National Conservation Area legislation, which Porter thinks was perceived as support for the bill.

“I perceived the funding as an effort so everyone involved knew all the problems, the facts on both sides and could intelligently make a decision,” Porter said. “I think Southwestern’s involvement was perceived by others that we were very much in favor of the NCA legislation. That had something to do with it, and the fact that I’m 80-plus, and my 26 years on the board.”

Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Suckla said the commission chose Schwindt because of his water knowledge, and the conservation area proposal did not play a part in the decision.

“Don has shown ways that he would save water and retain water for farmers and ranchers,” Suckla said. “John Porter is an icon for Montezuma County. He was involved in the management of the lake (McPhee Reservoir), and all the benefits the county has received from that is because of the work he did, but it felt like it was time for new eyes.”

When Porter joined the board in 1990, he said water storage and dam construction were the district’s primary focus, including such projects as Lake Nighthorse. But gradually, the focus broadened to consider recreational water use and water quality.

Porter refers to his tenure as a career highlight, and said the importance of inter-basin relations and dialogue will only increase as time goes on, water supply dwindles and population grows.

“You’re asking someone who’s biased, but I’ve always felt that the Southwestern board tried its very best to represent all interests,” Porter said. “True, the majority of the members, including myself, were and still are agriculture-oriented. Yet to me, as Colorado’s population grows, it’s inevitable that our water supply will be drying up agriculture. And that’s not in our best interest, but I don’t see a way of satisfying municipal needs that we’re going to have without drying up some ag use. Irrigation takes a lot of water, and just that amount converted to municipal use will take care of a lot of families in an urban situation.”

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.

    EPA lawsuit accuses Wildcat Mining Corp. of violating Clean Water Act near Durango

    wildcatmininglaplatacounty

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The EPA lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, accuses Wildcat of violating the Clean Water Act by dumping fill material without permission into Little Deadwood Gulch as part of a road work to reach a mine portal. The gulch seasonally feeds water into the La Plata River. The EPA also contends Wildcat improperly enlarged the road and built a wastewater pond in wetlands.

    Wildcat has responded by negotiating a deal with federal prosecutors to settle the lawsuit, if approved by a judge. Wildcat would pay $50,000 in fines and begin work to restore the damaged creek.

    “As long as Wildcat/Varca pay the civil penalty and comply with the restoration and mitigation plan, they can go forward with their mining activities from EPA’s perspective, though subject to regulation by (the Colorado) Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety and other state entities,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.

    The feds said they’d make the consent deal available for public comment once it is published in the Federal Register.

    Wildcat owner George Robinson did not return phone calls and could not be reached to comment.

    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

    “We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in [on oil and gas exploration]” — Nada Culver

    Montezuma Valley
    Montezuma Valley

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A Master Leasing Plan doesn’t sound provocative, but bitter lines have been drawn as a result of the Bureau of Land Management planning the future use of its federal land in Southwest Colorado, 92 percent of which is open to gas and oil development.

    Debate now lingers over whether the BLM should engage in such a plan to further analyze when and where new wells should be drilled.

    Conservationists and recreationists in support of a master plan say the study will give natural resources and recreational uses the same level of priority as gas and oil development, which the BLM has historically favored.

    Energy companies and those dependent on the industry argue the BLM already has protections in place, and the call for additional review is a cheap attempt by those who wish to see fuels remain in the ground.

    The BLM falls somewhere vaguely in between.

    Leveling the playing field

    Around 2010, the Tres Rios BLM office estimated up to 3,000 new wells would be drilled over the next 20 years for federally controlled minerals in western La Plata County and eastern Montezuma County.

    And within the 820,000-acre area of minerals, only 62,000 acres would be closed to drilling.

    The plan caught the ire of some community members who felt the boundaries come too close and adversely impact naturally valued lands, including the corridors into Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, around the mountain biking destination Phil’s World and on the edge of two wilderness study areas.

    In February 2015, the BLM released an updated Resource Management Plan, outlining guidelines for land use, including future exploration and development of new well pads in the region.

    But environmentalists say the resource plan fell short of keeping oil and gas in check, leaving too many areas of discretion and loopholes for over-development.

    Concerned with effects on wildlife migration, cultural resources, water quality and air quality, the groups pressured the BLM to consider a master plan, which could tighten restrictions in the two-county area.

    “We’re not going to make the entire area on the map a park,” said Nada Culver, director and senior counsel for the Wilderness Society. “The idea is to get more balanced with oil and gas. (A master leasing plan) takes resources like wildlife, recreation, agriculture – and evens the playing field.”

    Bringing together interests from across the board, the BLM set up and assigned an advisory committee to draft a recommendation on whether a master leasing plan is warranted. A sub-group of that committee is holding public hearings in Durango and Mancos on Thursday.

    Delay tactics?

    But not all are in favor of a second look at resources and interests on BLM lands.

    “This is being done for political reasons,” said Eric Sanford, operations and land manager for SG Interests, which is representing the energy industry on the sub-committee…

    BLM has final say

    BLM officials pointed to the $247 million the state of Colorado received in 2015 from royalties for all federal minerals, including oil and gas, as well as the more than 22,900 jobs tied to the industry’s operations on public land.

    The BLM Tres Rios Field Office will receive the advisory committee’s recommendation in August, but ultimately, the federal agency has the final say whether it will undertake a master leasing plan project.

    “We haven’t taken a stance one way or the other,” said Justin Abernathy, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Tres Rios office. “We’re a multiple-use agency, and in my experience with BLM – the people, the employees really try to balance their approach on how we manage public lands we’re responsible for.”

    The BLM ceased all gas and oil leasing on the area in question until the matter of a master leasing plan is resolved. Still, the federal agency has 35 previously authorized leases covering about 13,500 acres within the master plan’s boundaries.

    Between the 3,740-square-mile area that covers La Plata and Montezuma counties, the most recent data show nearly 6,000 gas wells dot the countryside.

    Throughout the mineral-rich San Juan Basin, the total number of drilling operations are hard to pin down, yet some reports reach into the tens of thousands.

    And numbers like those make the battle for the landscape of the West worth fighting for, the Wilderness Society’s Nada said.

    “This is a new culture,” Nada said. “The BLM has historically left it up to the oil and gas industry to decide when and where they drill.

    “We’re in a new territory for everyone where the BLM and public are gong to mix in.”

    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.

    #Snowpack news: “This [San Juan SWE] is way better than where we were last year” — Brian Domonkos

    From the Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

    The first Colorado water supply outlook report of the year brought good news for the state and particularly the San Miguel Watershed. The report, released Jan. 1 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, found that the statewide snowpack is at 118 percent of normal, the most plentiful start to a winter water season since 2011.

    After several dry years, heavy precipitation early this winter and fall replenished reservoirs around the state, allowing water managers to take a cautiously optimistic look at what the summer might bring.

    “To be at this point at the beginning of the year is usually a good thing,” said Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Colorado program. “What we can really hope for is a prolonged spring where temperatures stay pretty cool. Hopefully it stays cool well into the summer and that runoff will run off nice and even and it’ll be a nice water supply headed into the summer.”

    But weather is never a sure bet, and Domonkos said it was still early to predict a healthy water season.

    “We’ve only reached about the halfway point when it comes to our snowpack accumulation season. There’s a lot that can change,” he said. “It’s not the easiest for the weather in the mountains to maintain (those high levels of precipitation), but it’s certainly possible, and it could be higher.”

    All major river basins in the state have above-normal snowpacks, according to the report, but the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins are collectively the highest above normal, at 130 percent. In the combined southwestern Colorado basin, which includes Telluride, December storms dropped a whopping 174 percent of the average precipitation for the month.

    The Telluride Ski Resort has already reported 161 inches of snow for the season.

    Reservoir storage in the combined basin is at 103 percent of average, compared to 88 percent at this time last year.

    The Colorado Snow Survey’s snowpack and streamflow forecasts put the San Miguel at 161 percent of normal snowpack, the highest in the combined basin. The other river basins range from the La Plata River, at 108 percent of normal snowpack, to the Dolores River, at 157 percent of normal snowpack.

    Domonkos added that the San Miguel has about twice as much water in its snowpack as at this point last year; a positive improvement, but also nowhere near record levels.

    “This is way better than where we were last year, but we are a good long ways from where the maximum is,” he said.
    That snow is so important because it holds the water that will keep the West green in the summer.

    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.

    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.

    Long Hollow reservoir filling — The Durango Herald

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

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    Rain and snowmelt have provided the first water for a reservoir on Long Hollow Creek near Redmesa, a long-planned storage unit that will help Colorado meet its contractual water obligation to New Mexico and indirectly provide water for irrigators in southwest La Plata County.

    Construction was completed in June 2014 on the Bobby K. Taylor Reservoir, named for the late rancher whose land is now disappearing under the advancing water. When full, the reservoir will be a lake one-mile long.

    Flow from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw fills the reservoir, which has a capacity of 5,300 acre-feet.

    “We had 385 acre-feet this morning,” Brice Lee, chairman of the La Plata Water Conservancy District, said Tuesday. “It’s not as much as we’d like, but we’ll take it.”

    Colorado shares La Plata River water 50-50 with New Mexico, but the erratic flow makes fulfilling the obligation problematical. Now, Taylor Reservoir water can be released to the La Plata River a mile away for New Mexico consumption, and this will allow Colorado irrigators to take water from the La Plata River.

    Construction of the reservoir was on a tight budget. When the Animas-La Plata Project, the last major water work in the West, was downsized in the 1990s, water for irrigation was eliminated.

    Long Hollow project advocates patched together a financing plan. They acquired $15 million the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority had set aside for projects in the area, got $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and, finally, $1.6 million from the state Legislature last year.

    More La Plata River watershed coverage 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.

    Long Hollow Dam dedicated, brings hope of a more reliable supply to La Plata River irrigators

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

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The traditional ribbon cutting Thursday officially brought on line the Long Hollow Reservoir, raising the hopes of irrigators for a more consistent supply of water.

    Already the reservoir, capacity 5,300 acre-feet, has seen a little accumulation of water from recent heavy rain funneled into it via Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw.

    “We released that water,” said Brice Lee, president of the La Plata Water Conservancy District, sponsors of the project. “But today we start storing.”

    The main purpose of the reservoir, named for the late landowner Bobby K. Taylor, whose ranch house sat scant yards from the toe of the dam, is the storage of water to meet contractual obligations with New Mexico.

    Colorado must share La Plata River water fifty-fifty with New Mexico. But the fickle nature of the river makes living up to requirements difficult. Now reservoir water can satisfy New Mexico demands, allowing Colorado irrigators more use of the La Plata River.

    “The real beneficiaries are our irrigators,” Lee said. “We hope we can develop sustainable agriculture on Fort Lewis Mesa.”[…]

    Seemingly, anyone connected to the project – from early visionaries to construction workers who labored during the two years it took to build the dam – attended.

    Representatives from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which contributed $3 million to the cost of construction, were on hand. Priscilla Rentz, a member of the Ute Tribal Council, gave invocation.

    Three current legislators were in the audience – state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; state Rep. Michael McLachlan, D-Durango; and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

    Judging from the names announced, the entire board of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority accompanied agency director Mike Brod,

    At least a half-dozen members of the extended Taylor family stood to acknowledge applause…

    Water is gold here, given the inconsistent nature of the La Plata River and the requirement that what flow there is must be shared fifty-fifty with New Mexico.

    Irrigators saw hopes shrivel when the Animas-La Plata Project, or A-LP, the last big water undertaking in the West, was downsized in the late 1990s, eliminating water for agriculture.

    In spite of the disappointment, project advocates found three sources to keep the project alive – $15 million from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and $1.575 million from the state Legislature this year.

    Groundbreaking took place in summer 2010. The labor force of the Weeminuche Construction Authority, which built the dam, was 71 percent Ute Mountain Ute.

    The Long Hollow Reservoir will serve as a water bank, to be drawn on by New Mexico. The reserve allows Colorado irrigators to use La Plata River water that otherwise would go south.

    More La Plata River coverage here.

    Long Hollow Dam construction complete

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

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    A ceremonial load of dirt was dumped Thursday to mark the end of construction of the Long Hollow Dam.

    The brief topping-out observation was attended by members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which helped fund construction, and Brice Lee from La Plata Water Conservancy District, which sponsored the project.

    The reservoir behind the dam will store 5,300 acre-feet of water from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw to support area irrigators and help Colorado meet its obligation to share La Plata River water with New Mexico…

    The dam is 151 feet high with a span of 800 feet. A central clay core is supported upstream and downstream by tons of sand, rocks and dirt.

    Aaron Chubbuck, Weeminuche project manager, said the dump trucks used during construction covered the equivalent of 10 trips around the world at the equator (about 250,000 miles).

    Finishing touches remain. Sensors will be placed on the face of the dam to record possible movement or leakage, and electrical and hydraulic lines will be installed to operate the intake gate and valves on the downstream side.

    The “borrow areas” from where construction materials were taken will have to be revegetated.

    More La Plata River watershed coverage here.

    The San Juan Watershed Group launches website #ColoradoRiver

    San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass
    San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The San Juan Watershed Group, composed of public agencies and community members interested in the health of the San Juan, Animas and La Plata rivers, has launched a website.

    The organization educates the public about water-quality goals, finds matching funds for farmers who change practices so as to not pollute the rivers and coordinates research for a basin-wide watershed plan.

    Most of the group’s work involves the San Juan River from Navajo Dam through Farmington to the border of the Navajo Nation, the Animas River from Durango to Farmington and the La Plata River downstream of the Colorado border.

    The new website is part of the website of the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, headquartered in Aztec. It can be found at http://www.sanjuanswcd.com or directly at http://www.sanjuanswcd.com/watershed .

    For further information about the organization, send an email to sanjuanwatershedgroup@gmail.com

    More San Juan River Basin coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here. More Animas River watershed 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.

    HB14-1333: Legislature to fund Long Hollow project — The Durango Herald #COleg

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

    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

    A Southwest Colorado water district can expect $1,575,000 from the Legislature to help build a dam just off the La Plata River. It’s one of the few water projects statewide the Legislature is funding this year.

    Long Hollow Reservoir, about five miles north of the New Mexico border, is being built to help farmers and ranchers in southwestern La Plata County keep water through the dry months, while at the same time letting the state meet its legal obligation to deliver water to New Mexico.

    “Part of the reservoir would be for interstate compact compliance when Colorado has a difficult time making deliveries to New Mexico,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwest Water Conservation District…

    With the money from the state’s water projects fund, Long Hollow reservoir should be finished by fall, he said. Most of the money to build the reservoir was set aside when the Animas-La Plata Project was scaled down.

    The Legislature’s annual water projects bill, House Bill 1333, often has something for water users all across the state. But this year, Long Hollow is the only construction project to get direct funding. The bill also makes up to $131 million in loans to two projects on Denver’s south side – an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir and a water-efficiency and reuse project in the southern suburbs.

    The bill has passed the House on a 61-1 vote, and it is on track to pass the Senate early this week.

    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.

    La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

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    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

    That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

    “Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

    Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

    The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

    Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

    All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

    Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

    After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.

    Tough going for cattlemen in the dry southwestern part of the state #COdrought

    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    “The folks on the west side of the county have been hurt worse than anyone else,” said Wayne Semler, the recently elected president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association who runs cattle and farms south of Bayfield. He has shrunk his herd between 25 and 30 percent in the last couple of years. “With no irrigation, water tables dropping and springs drying up, they’re really struggling.”

    The heavy rains last fall and a predicted El Niño weather pattern, which generally brings us moisture, may make this year a little better, he said.

    “Last year’s snow melted into the ground because it was so dry, so there was no runoff” he said. “This year, at least, the soil moisture’s a little higher.”

    Morley said rain this year is more critical than ever as the drought continues.

    “We’re all praying for rain,” she said. “Tell people we all need to pray for rain.”[…]

    Most cattle ranchers run cow/calf operations, where the calves are fattened up during the summer for market in the fall.

    Some ranchers feed the heifers, or mama cattle, on their own land all year long, grazing in the pasture for the summer, feeding them hay grown in their fields during the colder months.

    “We fed our cattle longer than normal,” Semler said about 2013. “And our hay last year, some fields we cut once, some none at all. We had a grasshopper problem, too.”

    Other ranchers, like Brice Lee, whose ranch is south of Hesperus, move them from private pastures in New Mexico, where they’ve wintered the heifers, to private pastures in Colorado for the summer.

    “Last year, we only got four days of water, when we normally get 30 to 40,” Lee said. “Most everybody’s had to adjust. We haven’t harvested hay in two years, and we haven’t had a lawn for several years because we didn’t want to waste the water.”

    Still others winter the cattle on their own land, moving them during the summer to pastures in the mountains where they have grazing permits on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.

    More La Plata River coverage here.

    Long Hollow Reservoir should improve water rights administration on the La Plata River

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The water collected in Long Hollow Reservoir from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw will supplement the often scant water from the La Plata River, half of which must be shared with New Mexico.

    “We’re happy to see the project moving along so well,” Brice Lee, president of the sponsoring La Plata Water Conservancy District, said last week. “It’s been a tough year because we haven’t gotten the monsoons yet.” Lee gets water from a ditch off the La Plata River for pasture and to irrigate hay. But he’s had only four days of water from his ditch so far this spring…

    Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw drain a basin of 43 square miles on the east side of Colorado Highway 140 about five miles north of the New Mexico line and about a half mile from the confluence of Long Hollow Creek and the La Plata River. The reservoir, expected to be completed this year, will have a capacity of 5,432 acre-feet and 160 surface acres…

    Colorado and New Mexico share the water of the La Plata River under a 1922 agreement. Each state has unrestricted use of water from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15. But from then to 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.

    Fulfilling the compact isn’t easy for several reasons:

    The La Plata, which rises in the mountains north of U.S. Highway 160, doesn’t have abundant water even in its best years.

    Water availability and the growing season don’t follow parallel paths. The bulk of the water – as 95 years of records show – is available from April 1 to July 1. Flow shoots from 50 cubic feet per second to 200 cfs then drops quickly to 50 cfs before trailing off. The growing season goes on much longer.

    A porous river bed and vegetation siphon off water in the 31 river miles from Hesperus to the state line.

    Lee said there are probably 15 major ditches off the La Plata River and many smaller ones. He estimated that 500 to 600 irrigators have a share of the flow, however small.

    The cost of the project must come in at $18.6 million or less because there’s no additional funding in sight, Lee said. The source is $15 million – plus accrued interest – from what the state contributed for irrigation in the Animas-La Plata Project. The irrigation component was removed from the A-LP – a settlement of Native American water right claims – in the 1990s.

    More La Plata River Watershed coverage here and here.

    Will Lake Nighthorse recreation facilities be online in by 2014?

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    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.

    Colorado Water 2012: A look at the basins of Southwestern Colorado

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    Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Bruce Whitehead. Here’s an excerpt:

    Southwestern Colorado’s rivers are unique in that many of the rivers and tributaries flow from north to south and are administered as independent river systems.

    This is due to the fact that many, such as the Navajo, Blanco, Piedra, Pine, Florida, Animas, La Plata, and Mancos Rivers, are tributary to the San Juan River in New Mexico or just upstream of the state line. The Dolores River flows from north to south, but makes a “U-turn” near Cortez and heads back to the northwest and joins the Colorado River in Utah. The San Miguel River originates just above Telluride, and flows to the west where it joins the Dolores River just above the Colorado-Utah state line.

    The southwest basin has many areas that are under strict water rights administration on a regular basis, but there is still water available for appropriation and development pursuant to Colorado’s Constitution and the Colorado River Compact. The region is also known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities, which is the basis for the establishment of the Weminuche Wilderness area as well as nearly 150 reaches of streams with in-stream flow water rights. Over 50 natural lake levels are also protected by the state’s In-Stream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.

    Water leaders have been active for many years in the basin and recognized early on that in order to meet agricultural and municipal demands storage would need to be developed. The Southwestern Water Conservation District was formed in 1941, and has been responsible for the planning, development, and water rights acquisition for many of the federal projects in the region. Reservoirs such as McPhee (Dolores Project), Jackson Gulch (Mancos Project), Ridges Basin a.k.a Lake Nighthorse (Animas-La Plata Project), Lemon (Florida Project), and Vallecito (Pine River Project) provide for a supplemental supply of irrigation and municipal water in all but the driest of years. The delivery of these supplemental supplies assists with keeping flows in many critical reaches of river that historically had little or no flow late in the season due to limited supplies and water rights administration.

    Southwest Colorado is also home to two Sovereign Nations and Indian Reservations that were established by treaty in 1868. Under federal law the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe were entitled to federal reserved water rights, which had the potential to create conflicts with Colorado water law and non-Indian water users in the basin. After nearly a decade of negotiations, a consent decree was entered with the water court that settled the tribal claims. The Tribal Settlement included some early dates of appropriation for the tribes, and a water supply from some of the federal storage projects including the Dolores, Animas-La Plata, Florida, and Pine River Projects. This landmark settlement is evidence that both tribal and non-Indian interests can be provided for with water storage and cooperative water management.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

    San Juan Mountains: Acid rock drainage predated mining activity by millennia, mining made it worse

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    From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

    The report, titled “Natural Acid Rock Drainage Associated with Hydrothermally Altered Terrane in Colorado,” was recently given an award by the Geological Society of America as the best environmental publication of 2011. The report identifies a number of high-country streams in Colorado, including Red Mountain Creek, where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of historic mining.

    “Of course, the mining made it much, much worse,” commented Don Paulson, a former chemistry professor who is now curator of the Ouray County Historical Museum. Paulson has followed efforts to identify sources of stream pollution and the remedial measures undertaken to improve water quality in the Uncompahgre River and its tributaries.

    There was a big push to clean up the water affected by mine waste (and the role it plays in the inability of high country waterways to support aquatic life) in the 1980s. At that time the Colorado Department of Health (now Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) first sued under the Superfund Act, then negotiated with Idarado Mining and its parent company, Newmont Mining, substantial cleanups on both the Telluride and Ouray sides of the mountain. The Telluride side saw improvements to the water quality of the Upper San Miguel River. But the acid pH and the levels of zinc and other minerals in Red Mountain Creek has not changed significantly despite Idarado’s remediation in the area of the Treasury Tunnel.

    More water pollution coverage here.

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

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    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.

    La Plata River: Long Hollow Reservoir will help with compact deliveries

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    From the Cortez Journal (J. Paul Brown):

    A water storage project, on the La Plata drainage, that has been on the drawing board since 1945, the Long Hollow project, finally is about to become a reality. This is a project located in the mouth of the Long Hollow Drainage about 3 miles from the New Mexico state line. It will allow Colorado to store winter runoff and floodwater in the off irrigation season to be used to satisfy the New Mexico water right at critical times.

    One of the big problems in managing the delivery of water to New Mexico under the compact is when there is very little water at Hesperus, all of it can be released and because of seepage and evaporation nothing is delivered to the state line. The idea of the Long Hollow project is to store water so that New Mexico’s portion can be delivered out of the dam and Colorado can use more water that is in the river. It is a great project, and it is too bad that it has taken 67 years to become a reality.

    More La Plata River coverage 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.

    The La Plata Water Conservancy District to turn dirt for the long-proposed Longhollow Reservoir

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The approval of an escrow agreement allows the La Plata Water Conservancy District to break ground on the Longhollow Reservoir. “It’s been 15 or 20 years,” Lee said Friday. “Things move slow, but we’re getting there.”

    Groundbreaking could occur as early as next month, said Lee, president of the water district. The reservoir will be located just east of Colorado Highway 140 about five miles north of the New Mexico state line. It will store 5,400 acre-feet of water – 300 of them to help satisfy Colorado’s La Plata River obligation to New Mexico. The remainder is for irrigators in the arid southwest corner of La Plata County…

    Longhollow Creek and drainage from Government Draw will fill the reservoir. The project will cost about $22.5 million.

    More La Plata River coverage here.