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.


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.


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