As long as water flows clear, clean and freely from our taps, we have a false sense of security. We are urgently distant on securing water and building resilience. Yet the signs that threaten our supply and access are all around us. Aging infrastructure, drought and aridification, unplanned mine spills and forest fires.
When we talk about water, it’s often in conversations about growth. More housing estates, more people. But not this time. More water is now needed to meet current demand.
Last week, Durango Public Works Director Allison Baker presented City Council with a sobering overview of the risks and constraints facing our water supply. Baker has a plan to tap into Nighthorse Lake to access the city’s 3,800 acre-feet of water, which equates to 350 days of storage or a more than 1,500% increase in storage resilience. Currently, at the College Mesa Water Treatment Plant, the terminal tank’s maximum capacity is 267 acre-feet, which means 10 days of water storage during peak demand in the summer and 30 days in the winter. .
We can’t afford not to tap into Nighthorse Lake. We throw our weight of support behind this project.
The first entity to be mined – Durango, in this case – would build a collector with additional chambers. This means the water floodgates would open, so to speak, with easier and cheaper connections later for the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes. This does not solve the logistical nightmare of supplying water to reserves. But the fixing and counter potential would be there.
The council passed a resolution granting $500,000 to Public Works to study the preliminary engineering and feasibility of a pipeline between the lake and the processing plant. Over five years, Baker would design the pipeline, purchase rights of way, and build it at an estimated cost of $22 million.
We want the city to give the green light to this project until the end. It cannot be set aside with other concerns and passing priorities of the day. We will have nothing without water.
Baker looked at trends, statistically significant data, and science. She credits Durango’s ancestors with securing water rights around 1910. “We want to leave future generations in as good a position as our ancestors who bought the water rights,” Baker said. “We have great water rights.”
But this is not enough in our modern world. In January, the Florida Mesa pipeline leaked. It took 22 days to locate and repair the 70-year-old cast iron pipeline. Combine that with snowmelt a month earlier and a dry spring with significantly lower flow levels until almost July. “We think the river will always be there,” Baker said. “It doesn’t matter the value of your water rights if no one has flow.”
Remember, the Dolores River dried up last summer.
Our watersheds are always at risk of forest fires. “Just because something burned once doesn’t mean it can’t burn again,” Baker told the Council. As horrific as the Gold King mine release is, wildfires can be worse with debris spilling into rivers, killing fish and compromising water treatment.
Now is the time to fund projects through the Department of Local Affairs, grants and the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which tribes will receive a portion of $3.5 billion for water improvements.
In September 2008, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe partnered with the La Plata West Water Authority on the Animas-La Plata Water Project to fund a water intake structure, according to Archie House Jr., vice chairman of the board. tribal. “But the tribe is not about to bring water to the reservation,” House said.
Baker’s project increases the possibilities of access. It means something.
We have to stay the course on this project. Nighthorse Lake contains more than water. It contains everything.