Officials gathered Monday to celebrate the opening of Lake Nighthorse and the 50 years of work behind the reservoir that sits in Ridges Basin, southwest of downtown Durango.
“My heart is full today,” Mayor Sweetie Marbury said.
The $560 million project required numerous partnerships to build and many years of negotiation to open to the public. The lake opened to weekend recreation April 1, and it is now open every day.
“This day would not have come without a lot of hard work, cooperation and partnerships between local, state, federal and tribal agencies who each have contributed to Lake Nighthorse’s development as a water resource and as a place for the community and region to recreate,” La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said. “This project is reliant on the Animas River, which is the lifeblood of our community. I hope we can build on the community partnerships that made Lake Nighthorse a reality and use them to ensure the Animas River’s health into the future.”
Congress first approved Lake Nighthorse in 1968 to fulfill a water rights settlement with the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, said Southern Ute Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Cheryl Frost.
Harold Cuthair, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Frost emphasized the importance of the city’s role as recreation manager, making it the steward of the lake and nearby archaeological sites.
“Water is life,” Cuthair said.
He is particularly concerned that visitors may not respect the burial sites near the lake. He also worries that allowing motorboats on the lake could pose a risk to the lake’s water quality, Cuthair said in an interview. The lake opens to motorized boating Saturday.
The Bureau of Reclamation regularly monitors Lake Nighthorse for heavy metals and petroleum, said Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Ed Warner.
“If there is ever a problem, we will work with everybody to address that,” he said.