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Durango considering alternative locations for proposed Lake Nighthorse pipeline

City and Southern Ute Tribal councils meet to discuss mutual interests in upcoming projects
Durango City Council and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe met on Thursday to discuss several city projects, including La Posta Road developments, Three Springs projects and a proposed pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Terminal Reservoir. (Durango Herald file)

The city of Durango is contemplating alternative locations for its proposed raw water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Terminal Reservoir, and it promises to work with the Southern Ute Tribal Council through the process.

Durango City Council and the Southern Ute Tribal Council met on Thursday to discuss the city’s plans for development in Three Springs and La Posta Road, plus the Lake Nighthorse pipeline project.

Tribal councilors continue to emphasize the need for clear communication between the two governments and their priority in looking out for the best interests of the people who live in the Southern Ute Reservation.

The proposed pipeline would improve the city’s water resiliency in the face of climate change, aridification, aging infrastructure, unplanned mine releases and wildfires, according to the city’s summary of the project.

The project itself is still in the very early stages of planning and design, and alternative locations are now under review, Durango Public Works Director Allison Baker said.

“Nighthorse has obviously been something we’ve been talking about for about a year now,” she said. “ … We do have an alternatives analysis report from plumber/engineering that was part of our process in 2023.”

She said city staff members will work with tribal staff members to evaluate alternatives and keep both government councils posted on what comes of those discussions.

“We’ll continue discussions with tribal staff and council to see any mutual opportunities, ways that the pipeline would or could be a benefit to the tribes as well as to the city and providing resilience to the infrastructure that we already have in place and downstream protection for any potential unexpected events in the river,” Baker said.

Mayor Melissa Youssef said the potential pipeline is still a long way off from being built at this stage and will require a “substantial sum of money” for stakeholders.

She said City Council took interest in the project because of the city of Durango’s need for water resiliency, and discussions with the tribe are “vitally important.”

“We recognize that with climate change, with drought, with wildfire scares and emergencies, that we want that resiliency for decades to come,” she said. “Not just for the near term, but literally for future generations, for our grandkids.”

Tribal council members were adamant the Southern Ute Indian Tribe should have been keyed into discussions about the pipeline project from the very beginning.

Southern Ute Tribal Council Vice Chairman Lorelei Cloud said the Southern Utes also need water resiliency for its future generations, and that is its top priority.

“We have a different situation than what the city of Durango has. And I think our priorities – even though they may kind of sound similar – they are completely different,” she said. “And so we need to make sure that we’re protecting … our water rights (and responsibility to our people), and make sure that they have the water that they need that they have not received since we received water rights.”

Cloud also said she’s looking at helping the Southern Ute Tribe become water resilient.


A previous version of this story did not include Durango Public Works Director Allison Baker’s first name and title.

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