Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

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

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.

On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment.

“We cannot separate water from our way of life,” said Southern Ute Chairman Clement Frost. “We saw how important it is when the Gold King Mine spill happened.”

The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.

Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.

The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.

Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.

The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.

As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.

A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.

Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.

Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.

In-stream flow rights offer alternative to federal water claims — The Pine River Times

Vallecito Lake Weminuch Wilderness via SummitPost.org
Vallecito Lake Weminuch Wilderness via SummitPost.org

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Four streams in the San Juan National Forest, including Vallecito Creek, are being looked at as relatively non-controversial ways to promote this by acquiring junior in-stream flow rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which administers the in-stream flow program within the prior appropriation system.

The section of Vallecito Creek being discussed runs 17.7 miles from a high-elevation cirque lake south to the Forest Service boundary above Vallecito reservoir. The other creeks are Himes Creek in Mineral County, Little Sand Creek in Hinsdale County, and Rio Lado Creek, a tributary to the Dolores River.

The La Plata County Commissioners got an update on this on Sept. 13. The federal claims have been seen over the years as a threat to the state’s prior appropriation system and state administration of water rights – especially claims on lower elevation rivers and streams that could threaten upstream private or municipal water rights.

“We’ve come close to resolving this in District 7 (Water Court), but not quite,” said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwest Water Conservation District. “Right now it’s still an active case. Within the last year or two, the Forest Service and state started having discussions… The Forest Service was interested in how in-stream flow could help resolve the reserve rights. We looked at the streams the Forest Service was interested in. If we’re successful, it could be a great tool to resolve these outstanding cases without being litigated.”

He continued, “We’re looking for certainty, that they are state appropriated rights. We don’t want to expand the state in-stream flow program. We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode.”

Forest Service staffer Anthony Madrid said, “In the 1990s, there was a big effort to work out a settlement. That stalled out. This past year, we’ve put more effort into it. We want free-flowing streams to support aquatic and riparian values. We’re really excited to engage in this new process.”

Jeff Baessler, director of the CWCB’s in-stream flow program, told commissioners that back in 1973, in-stream flow was not considered a beneficial use in state water law. State legislators passed SB 97 that year to make it a beneficial use and gave the CWCB authority to acquire those rights to ensure reasonable preservation of the natural environment and provide regulatory certainty for current water users under prior appropriation…

“Today I’m only talking about new appropriations. This new right probably would be January 2017,” Baessler said.

Whitehead added that the proposed in-stream right on Vallecito Creek won’t change anything. “It preserves the status quo,” he said.

The Forest Service came to CWCB in January this year with its recommendations for the four streams, Baessler said. He said before the nine member CWCB can make an in-stream flow recommendation, there has to be a determination that a natural environment exists, that there’s an “indicator species” to be protected, that the natural environment can be preserved with the amount of water available for appropriation, and that there won’t be injury to senior water rights.

The in-stream right will be “the minimum amount necessary” to serve the purpose, he said. “We have to quantify that amount. Sometimes people say, ‘I’ve seen this stream dry, so that’s the minimum.’ The minimum is the amount necessary to preserve the natural environment, such as the fishery. We look at median flow over time.”

Those studies are now happening on the proposed section of Vallecito Creek. Madrid said, “If the weather holds, we should have the data collection by the end of the month.”

Whitehead said that if CWCB supports a recommendation, it directs staff to file for the in-stream right in Water Court. Those can be contested. “At this point, we’re supportive of the whole process. Everyone is waiting to see the data, to make sure it’s reasonable,” he said. “Technically we’re still in litigation (with the Forest Service). We need to see where everything goes.”

Baessler acknowledged, “The in-stream flow program is controversial. There’s an impact we can have to other users, especially lower on the river. When senior users file for a change of use or something, we’ll file a statement of opposition if we think there’ll be harm to the status quo. That’s where it gets controversial.”

These four streams are high elevation on Forest Service land, he said. He doesn’t think they’ll be contested.

Whitehead added, “There are many counties that have contested in-stream flow because of impact on future growth. These shouldn’t be.” And the hope is they can become a model to resolve the federal reserved rights claims from 1973 within the state appropriation system, he said. “If they are successful, there may be other streams in the future to use this process. They are in areas that we hope will be the least controversial. This could be the start of what the Forest Service will do in the future.”

Acting San Juan National Forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said, “On Division 7 (Water Court), we haven’t used this process before. We’d prefer a local solution to a process that involves judges. The next big step is the data. There are still a lot of unknowns… We’re always looking for a better path than reserve water rights.”

#ColoradoRiver: Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project Progresses with Two New Contracts Awarded #COriver

The $1 billion Navajo-Gallup water pipeline will take 12 years to build and could serve as many as 250,000 people a year by 2040, officials say. Image via Cronkite News.
The $1 billion Navajo-Gallup water pipeline will take 12 years to build and could serve as many as 250,000 people a year by 2040, officials say. Image via Cronkite News.

From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

The Bureau of Reclamation recently awarded two new contracts totaling $66.3 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Those contracts continue construction work on a project that will provide long-term, sustainable water for 43 chapters of the Navajo Nation Reservation, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the City of Gallup, New Mexico.

On September 7, 2016, Reclamation awarded a $37 million design-build contract to CH2M for the design and construction of a water treatment plant along the project’s Cutter Lateral. Water for the Cutter Lateral will be supplied from Navajo Reservoir via Cutter Reservoir near Bloomfield, N.M. In addition to a state-of-the-art water treatment plant, work under this contract will include design and construction of a clearwell pumping plant, 500,000 gallon regulating tank, 2,500 square foot operation and maintenance building and 21,400 feet of pipeline. The plant will have a phased water treatment system to accommodate increasing flows over time up to a future total capacity of 5.4 million gallons per day. Work under this contract is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019.

On September 8, 2016, Reclamation awarded a second contract valued at $29.3 million to Moltz Constructors, Inc. for construction of Reach 22B of the Cutter Lateral, which will consist of 16 miles of 24-inch diameter pipe and two pumping plants. The pipeline is designed to handle flows up to 9.6 cubic feet per second and is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2018.

“Vital infrastructure is a key focus for President Obama, the Department of the Interior and Reclamation and we’re proud of the monumental work being accomplished on this project by our employees, contractors and partners,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “These awards mark a significant milestone for the project; all Reclamation construction along the Cutter Lateral is now either underway or under contract and we’re on track to begin water deliveries through the lateral in 2019.” said Brent Rhees, Director of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region. The Navajo Nation is also moving forward with design and construction of downstream sections of the lateral under a financial assistance agreement with Reclamation.

The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement. When complete, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipe, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks.

Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.

On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment…

The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.

Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.

The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.

Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.

The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.

As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.

A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.

Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.

Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.

#AnimasRiver: Senators seek repayment for mine spill response — The Farmington Daily Times

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

A half dozen U.S. senators are backing an amendment to expedite federal reimbursements to states, tribes, local governments and individuals for expenses incurred during the Gold King Mine spill.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., led the effort on Monday with senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing an amendment to a Senate bill for the Water Resources Development Act.

In addition, the amendment calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, tribes and local governments to develop and implement a water quality program to monitor the rivers contaminated by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill…

The water quality program would be responsible for collecting water samples and sediment data, and releasing that information online for the public’s review, according to the amendment.

In a joint press release on Monday, the senators said they support holding the EPA accountable for the spill, and they emphasized that reimbursements to government entities and individuals are needed.

Udall said reimbursements to state and tribal governments “have taken far too long,” and the amendment will start the reimbursement process.

“It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through long-term monitoring,” Udall said.

Heinrich called the rate to repay individuals “unacceptable.” He also called for action to reform “outdated policies” to clean up contaminated mines in the West and on tribal lands.

“Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land and livelihoods,” Heinrich said.

The bipartisan effort received support on Wednesday from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who continued his calls for reimbursing Navajo farmers.

Begaye said in a press release that funds received as a result of the amendment would be used to build a laboratory in Shiprock that would be used to study the water quality of the San Juan River.

“This amendment sets forth funds to be provided for monitoring of the San Juan River and irrigation canals. We need for our farmers to be confident that the water quality is irrigable,” the tribal president said.

#AnimasRiver: Bennet and Gardner hope to push payments from the EPA #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Colorado senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, joined Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, John McCain, R-Arizona, and Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, in endorsing the measure, according to a news release…

In a prepared statement, the senators said they hope to push the Environmental Protection Agency to cover costs incurred beyond Oct. 31, 2015, which the agency said it would not do, barring extenuating circumstances.

The measure would require EPA to pay all costs eligible for reimbursement unless the agency proves that the amount is not consistent with what is mandated under federal law.

If approved, EPA would have 90 days to pay out claims and give notice whether the agency will pay within 30 days of reaching a decision. It would also establish a water quality-monitoring program, which the EPA would reimburse local agencies to operate.

“It’s been more than a year since the Gold King Mine spill, and it’s unacceptable that the EPA still hasn’t fully reimbursed Colorado communities for their costs,” Bennet said in the prepared statement.

“The communities in southwest Colorado paid out of their own pockets to maintain drinking water, provide for extra staffing costs, keep the public updated, provide water for irrigation and monitor water quality. This amendment ensures that the EPA fully reimburses these communities and works collaboratively to institute a robust long-term water quality monitoring plan.”

Reimbursements to entities affected by the Gold King Mine spill, for which the EPA has taken responsibility, have trickled in since an agency-contracted crew released a massive plume of mine wastewater more than a year ago…

According to EPA records, the agency has paid more than $5.2 million in costs associated with the Aug. 5 blowout, but local agencies say outstanding costs remain unpaid.

San Juan County (Colorado) administrator Willy Tookey said the EPA has paid more than $250,000 (EPA records show $269,196) to the county and town of Silverton, yet $90,000 remains outstanding.

Megan Graham, public affairs officer for La Plata County, said the county has received $172,000 in costs, and is waiting for an additional $87,000. EPA records indicate $369,578 has been paid out to La Plata County, and it was unclear Monday why there is a discrepancy.

The city of Durango, too, says it’s due more money, having been paid $45,410 of its $444,032 request. Finance director Julie Brown said the city was notified Monday that the EPA intends to pay $101,465.

Local companies and individuals impacted by the spill also are caught in the EPA’s waiting game for reimbursements.

As of July, the EPA received 68 claims for financial reimbursements, yet the agency has not made any awards. The EPA has maintained it must conduct all reviews and investigations before awarding grants for financial damages.

It was unclear Monday what the 68 filings totaled in cost amount. However, a response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October, when there were just over 30 filings, showed claims of financial damages surpassed $1.3 million.

Those who believe they have been financially damaged by the EPA-triggered event have until Aug. 5, 2017, to file a Form 95, the claim process for financial reimbursements from economic loss caused by wrongful U.S. government actions.

#AnimasRiver: Lackawanna Mill cleanup update

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best
Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

On Monday, a joint project between the Bureau of Land Management, the town of Silverton and volunteers from around the area hauled away the last metal debris around the Lackawanna Mill, a site just north of Silverton not included in the EPA’s Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund designation.

“While there’s still talk about how to deal with the big things, we’re looking around to see what are the little projects we can do that can have some punch,” said Lisa Richardson, a … technician for BLM.

The remediation of the Lackawanna Mill Site began in 1996 when crews removed piles of mine tailings that were dumped beside the Animas River when the mill operated from 1928 until it shut down sometime in the 1960s.

“The river was eroding into the tailings,” said Peter Butler, a coordinator with the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Because it was right on the banks of the Animas it justified doing that.”

As a result, an area that once leached heavy metals into the Animas River is now a thriving wetland, home to several beaver ponds and prime habitat for riparian and avian life.

In 1999, the town of Silverton used a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to purchase about 26 acres for $110,000 with the intent of expanding Kendall Mountain Recreation area, which included part of the Lackawanna mill. The BLM also owns a portion of the land.

At the time, Silverton town officials proposed repurposing the historic mill into a space that would promote economic development and heritage tourism. Such ideas as a museum, artist residency, hotel and even an amphitheater were thrown into the mix. Lack of funding stalled the project.

However, last year life at the Lackawanna Mill seemed to reawaken. The town of Silverton launched a project to repair the building’s failing roof and other crumbling infrastructure.

“It (the damage) was significant,” said Chris George, parks, facilities and recreation coordinator for the town. “There were a lot of areas we couldn’t stand on until it was reinforced.”

The project, completed this year, didn’t address any of the structural needs inside the decrepit mill, George said. And many outstanding issues, such as utilities and access, remain a major obstacle to Lackawanna breathing new life.

“It would be an incredibly challenging job to make that a piece of economic return,” said town Administrator Bill Gardner. “Will it happen someday? I hope so. The dream is still there.”

Regardless, Richardson said removing the debris, which included rusty scrap metal, car parts, plywood and “just junk,” was significant both aesthetically – the mill is visible from town – and environmentally as the site is located above the wetlands and beaver ponds.

“It’s been used as a dumping site, so a lot of the junk is not associated with the mill, archaeologically speaking,” she said. “If we can, we want to keep those things on-site and put them in places where they won’t end up in the beaver ponds, which are really taking off.”

Richardson said the genesis of the debris cleanup day started when Outward Bound, an outdoor education program, approached the BLM with the idea of a community service project at Lackawanna.

Last year, a class of Outward Bound students built a temporary boardwalk across the wetland, allowing crews of mostly volunteers access to the mill site.

“All this volunteer work has led this project to cost almost nothing,” Richardson said.

Altruism is no stranger in the once-heavily mined San Juan Mountains around Silverton. The mining has impacted water quality in the Animas watershed since it started in the 1870s. For the past two decades, efforts to improve the watershed have been led by the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a coalition of mainly volunteers.

“If you add it all up over 20 years, there’s probably a million dollars of volunteer time from the stakeholders group,” Butler estimated, adding that the group has held similar community cleanup days.

“I think people really enjoy the beauty of the landscape around them, and this is something simple and easy they can do to try and improve environment.”

Despite the goodwill of countless individuals and organizations, the scope of hard-rock mining’s legacy around Silverton and the effects to downstream communities proved too large for a grass-roots movement to handle.

Last week, the EPA officially declared a number of mine sites responsible for degrading water quality as a Superfund site, thereby taking control of future cleanup efforts on a substantial portion of the district.

The EPA, for its part, has maintained in the year since one of its contracted crews triggered a massive blowout at the Gold King Mine that the agency will involve local entities as best it can.

Bill Simon, a retired co-founder of the stakeholders group credited with organizing countless cleanup days, said he’s not so much opposed to federal intervention as he is to losing community involvement.

“The advantage of doing that is you develop a sense of stewardship so that they care for what they’ve done and fully understand the consequences, environmentally, of extraction endeavors,” Simon said. “It gives an idea of the true cost.”

Next year, if the funds are available, Richardson said a project will aim at reseeding the grounds around Lackawanna. She hopes to draw out volunteers for that effort, too.