US Senators Bennet and Gardner, along with US Representative Tipton pen letter requesting the opening of Lake Nighthorse

March 18, 2015
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.


Lake Nighthorse: “This water would really help our future” — Manuel Heart

January 7, 2015
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

December 9, 2014

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.


Reclamation Announces Public Meeting on Lake Durango Water Pipeline

November 10, 2014
Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Phillip Rieger/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that the public is invited to attend a meeting about La Plata West Water Authority’s proposal to construct a 4.6-mile raw water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango. The meeting is on Tuesday, November 18 at 6 p.m., in the Eolus Room at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
The purpose of the public meeting is to provide information about the pipeline project. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, Reclamation is required to disclose the environmental impacts of the proposal and is in the process of developing an environmental assessment. Reclamation is seeking input from the public regarding issues or concerns that should be considered in the environmental assessment.

LPWWA is proposing the water pipeline to meet the current and future needs for domestic water supply in western La Plata County. The proposed right-of-way project crosses lands administered by Reclamation as well as private property.

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted to Phillip Rieger Bureau of Reclamation, 185 Suttle St. Ste. 2, Durango, CO 81301.

More Animas-La Plata project coverage here.


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.


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