Finally there’s water for Animas-La Plata

It shouldn’t take more than 40 years to build a water project once Congress authorizes it, but that’s been the saga of the Animas-La Plata water project in southwestern Colorado.

The good news is that water finally began flowing into the main reservoir for the project this week, water that will help this country honor water commitments that it made more than 130 years ago to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribes.

The bad news is Congress first authorized the project in 1968, and re-authorized it in 1988 as part of the Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act, but it has taken decades to get it built.
Animas-La Plata’s first setback came when it fell victim to President Jimmy Carter’s edict to suspend work on all new federal water projects. Later, it was the subject of court challenges by environmental groups and concerns about endangered species.

It was modified several times to handle those concerns, most importantly when a large irrigation component was removed from the project. Animas-La Plata as it is now designed will supply water to the two Ute Indian tribes, the Navajo Tribe in New Mexico and to the municipalities of Durango and Farmington, N.M.

People like former Congressmen Ray Kogovsek, Mike Strang and Scott McInnis worked hard to keep the project alive. So did former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, which is why the new reservoir will be known as Lake Nighthorse. Ute leaders such as Leonard Burch and Judy

Knight also labored here and in Washington to keep the project from being scuttled.

But few people did as much as the late Sam Maynes of Durango, an attorney who long worked with the Utes on the project. And construction finally began in 2001.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects Lake Nighthorse to be filled in 18 months.

It’s about time.


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