BREEN – The vision of taking water out of the Animas River and delivering it to homes in western La Plata County, known for its lack of available water, is inching closer to reality.
Residents on this side of the county held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday to celebrate a major milestone: the start of a project that will lay the pipe to deliver water to an estimated 150 homes.
“This is a day that’s been a long time coming for a lot of us,” said Roy Horvath with La Plata West Water Authority.
Most parts of La Plata County have reliable sources of water through rivers, private water wells or water storage projects. The county’s western half, however, has always dealt with a shortage of available water.
Efforts to launch smaller-scale projects to bring domestic water west have been ongoing ever since the massive Animas-La Plata Project, which involved a dam and transmountain diversions, was downsized.
Once the new pipeline project is complete, water will be pumped from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango, on the south side of U.S. Highway 160, about 7 miles west of Durango. Then, water will be piped down to homes that have purchased a tap.
Horvath said construction on the estimated $5 million project should start within the next few weeks and be complete by November 2019.
“Hopefully, this time next year, we’re turning water on,” he said.
It has been a significant year for those who want to take water out of the Animas River watershed and deliver it to homes without a reliable source of water in the western reaches of La Plata County.
This spring, the 4.6-mile pipeline that brings water from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango was completed.
“It’s a major milestone: Now, we have a way to get water to the dryside,” Ken Spence, president of the La Plata West Water Authority Board of Directors, said at the time. “(This project) is one of those things that’s been discussed for 10, 20 years. But you have to do it in steps, and this is a huge one.”
That project was a partnership among the La Plata West Water Authority, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe and Lake Durango Water Authority.
“They say there’s three things that make a water project work in Colorado,” said Bob Wolf with Southwestern Water Conservation District. “The first one is persistence, the second one is persistence and the third one is persistence.”
Mardi Gebhardt with La Plata West Water Authority said the efforts to bring water west are crucial to residents who often have to haul water or rely on water wells that can sometimes go dry.
“We’ve waited a long time to be here,” she said. “I’m glad we didn’t pass out from holding our breath.”
Eventually, La Plata West Water Authority would like to expand its pipeline system and the number of homes it can serve. Long term, Horvath said the organization would like to build its own water treatment plant.
The pipeline is also expected to one day reach the reservation of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, though there’s not set time frame for that to happen.
“Water is life, and now we’re getting good, reliable water,” said DeAnne House, member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council.
Horvath said the pipeline project was funded in part by residents paying for taps before any system was in place. He hopes now that construction is visible, more residents will buy into the system.
“This will be a huge influence to the quality of life for residents out here,” he said. “And someday, we’ll put the whole puzzle together.”