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

June 29, 2014
Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

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

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

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

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.


Reclamation Announces Public Meeting on Recreation at Lake Nighthorse

June 15, 2014

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

May 16, 2014
Lake Nighthorse first fill via The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse first fill via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


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

April 28, 2014
Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

Long Hollow Reservoir location map via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


Will Lake Nighthorse recreation facilities be online in by 2014?

April 9, 2013

lakenighthorseusbr.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


Reclamation Announces Planned Test Release from Lake Nighthorse

July 25, 2012

lakenighthorseafterfirstfill.jpg

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

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

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

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

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


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

June 21, 2012

lakenighthorsedurangoherald.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

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

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


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