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

October 6, 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):

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

June 20, 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):

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

June 17, 2014
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

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.


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

May 9, 2014
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

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.


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