Construction begins on long-awaited reservoir |

Construction begins on long-awaited reservoir

Dam will make good on promise to supply Indian tribes with waterAssociated PressDURANGO – 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 region.Tribal leaders, local politicians and government officials led a ceremony Friday 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 Colorado.Originally, the dam was to impound a 191,200 acre-foot reservoir. An acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons, enough to serve one or two households for one year.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.”On Friday, 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.In New Mexico, the Navajo Nation Municipal Pipeline, to be finished in 2010, will send water from Farmington to Shiprock on the Navajo Indian Reservation.”This is nothing less than monumental,” said Rick Ehat, project manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.Vail – Colorado

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