U.S. Water News Online
DURANGO, Colo.-- For 37 years, three Indian tribes have
been waiting for Congress to make good on a promise to supply them
with enough water to satisfy tribal claims in an increasingly thirsty
Tribal leaders, local politicians and government officials led a
ceremony recently to mark the start of construction on the foundation
of the Ridges Basin Dam, which is planned to hold 120,000 acre feet
to supply water to the Ute Mountain Ute, Southern Ute and Navajo
tribes and to the cities of Durango and Farmington, N.M.
"When they put us on the reservation, they promised that we would
have water for the benefit of our people," said Clement Frost,
chairman of the Southern Ute tribe. "We went to Washington many times
to ask 'When is the time to make the promise come true?"'
Congress approved legislation in 1968 authorizing construction of
the Animas-La Plata project, but President Jimmy Carter halted all
Western dam-building projects in 1978 and an environmental lawsuit
stopped work in 1992. Members of Colorado's congressional delegation
has worked for years to secure funding for the project in southwest
Originally, the dam was to impound a 191,200 acre-foot reservoir.
That dam would have provided additional water for agricultural,
municipal and industrial uses, said state Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus,
whose late father moved his family to the area in the mid-1940s
because of the project.
"This isn't the project that we envisioned, not the project my dad
worked for," he said. "But even when water for agriculture was
removed we stuck with our friends and the Utes. We'll stand together
now and get funding to see the project to the end."
Recently, about 200 people gathered at the dam site southwest of
Durango to watch as huge trucks spread a layer of compressed clay on
the bedrock foundation of the dam, which will flood a valley to form
Lake Nighthorse, named for former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell,
a Republican from nearby Ignacio.
Water also will come from the Animas River through a new 2.1-mile
pipeline and pumping system.
The dam is expected to be complete in 2008 and the reservoir
filled in 2011.
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