The city of Durango has entered its first phase of the Lake Nighthorse pipeline project that intends to give the city another water source to pull from in case of natural disasters and mine spills.
The pipeline would allow the city to access its share of water at Lake Nighthorse in the event its access to the Florida or Animas rivers is compromised or those waters become unavailable or unsafe for use.
During the eight-month phase, the city aims to conduct community outreach as part of an effort to develop 30% of the design for the pipeline. Throughout the eight-month process, the city utilities department will be taking feedback from all owners and potential owners of water at Lake Nighthorse.
The purpose is to find a way to deliver raw water based on the city’s current Animas-La Plata project allocation from Lake Nighthorse to the city’s existing College Mesa Water Treatment Plant near the city reservoir in northeast Durango on College Mesa.
This will include a number of meetings with the project team, tribal council members from the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes and the Animas-La Plata Water Association.
The phase also seeks to develop a preliminary engineering report to be presented to City Council.
Phase one will evaluate how the city should build a line down the Basin Creek drainage area southeast of Lake Nighthorse to the Animas Air Park Airport.
Elkins said the alignment aspect of the project was important because all of the proposed routes through the Animas Air Park run through Southern Ute land.
“We want to make sure that it’s in collaboration (with the Southern Ute Tribe) and that the city is not acting or making any decisions on what happens on tribal land,” Elkins said.
The early pipeline alignment design displayed during a meeting on May 1 showed the pipeline coming from Lake Nighthorse running southeast down Basin Creek to the Animas Air Park. From there, the initial alignment shows three different alternatives to build the pipeline through the Animas Air Park or around either side to the north or south.
It then shows the line running from the air park up La Posta Road and then along South Camino del Rio and up Larry Valdez Way to connect to the existing College Mesa pipeline which runs under East Eighth Avenue to College Drive and up to the mesa.
Elkins described the layout as a “line on a map” because there is no plan to start construction yet. This is what the city believes to be the easiest way to build a pipeline from Nighthorse to the College Mesa but it will re-evaluate the alignment once it has reached the 30% phase in the design layout.
He said the project is different from other city projects because normally city projects are fully designed to build.
The city awarded the project to Plummer Associates who is working in coordination with Dewberry Engineers Inc. and Keystone Policy Center, to develop the first portion of the design.
“We're going to purchase miles of pipeline. We want to have the ability to do that quickly, so that we can potentially save ourselves millions of dollars,” Elkins said.
A question was presented during the May 1 community discussion about whether the pipeline option is a cheaper alternative than building another water treatment-plant, presumably closer to Lake Nighthorse.
Elkins said he is unsure which would be more expensive but said the city will have a better idea at the end of the 30% design phase.
The city of Durango has an allocation of 3,800 acre-feet of the water in Lake Nighthorse, according to the Animas-La Plata water allocation breakdown. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe are each allocated 44,662 acre feet.
In addition, 4,680 acre feet is allocated to the Navajo Nation, 20,800 acre feet to San Juan Water Commission and 10,460 acre feet to La Plata-Archuleta Water District.
However, the water from Lake Nighthorse is designated for municipal-industrial use and not agricultural use, which means the tribes can use the water for any use but not for agricultural purposes.
Elkins said the decision was made in 2000 to make the water exclusively available for municipal-industrial use because it would harm endangered species such as the humpback chub and the Colorado pikeminnow in the Animas River.
“If you are using that water at the rate needed for agricultural application, then you would be drawing down the Animas at a level that would cause harm to those endangered species,” Elkins said.
The overall project is estimated to finish in around six years.