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.