SOUTHERN UTE RESERVATION – The Southern Ute Indian Tribe broke ground on a new settling pond Wednesday south of Bayfield to expand emergency capacity for the region’s water system.
The new settling pond will enable the Southern Ute Utilities Division to provide up to 30 days of water in emergencies. The division, administered by the Southern Ute Growth Fund, provides drinking water and sewage treatment for the tribal campus, local tribal members and the town of Ignacio. Currently, the system can provide less than one day of emergency water for users.
“We’re truly excited to get this going,” said Shane Seibel, Growth Fund executive director. “It’s a long time coming, but there’s a lot of steps involved to get to where we’re at right now.”
Southern Ute Tribal Council members, Ignacio town representatives, Growth Fund leadership, Utilities Division employees and other community members gathered at the settling pond sight for a presentation of the project, blessing of the project and land, and groundbreaking.
“As Ute people, we hold water very sacred to us. Water is the essence of life, nothing can survive without water,” said Lorelei Cloud, council treasurer. “Creating this water settling pond to take care of the water ... is such a great opportunity.”
JITA Contracting Inc. in Durango and F&M Construction in Bayfield will begin digging Monday and expect to finish the settling pond project in April, said Hayes Briskey, Southern Ute Utilities Division manager.
The new pond will hold 20 million gallons – enough to fill all the pools at the Durango Community Recreation Center 45 times – and be able to provide an emergency supply of water for customers for at least 20 days.
It will work in conjunction with another settling pond the tribe has had in operation since the 1980s, Briskey said. This old pond holds 800,000 gallons of water, enough emergency storage for one day of usage.
“We’ve experienced a lot of drought, including Ignacio, our neighbors,” said Cheryl Frost, vice chairman of the tribal council. “I’m just really glad we’re all here together today.”
The Utilities Division would tap the pond if contaminants, drought or wildfires affected the river.
For example, Briskey said that it was difficult to provide water for users because of the regional drought in 2018. Also, the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002 triggered the tribe to build its water processing facilities because of the impact it had on the region’s water. The settling pond would also be used if a chemical spill or toxic waste affected the Los Pinos River.
“The need to have the capacity to provide clean, consistent water to the community is what brought this project into being,” Briskey said.
The tribe spent $3 million on the settling pond, and none of those costs are included in the utility rate structure for users, according to a June news release from the tribe. The town has been considering other water providers because of a recent rate increase approved by the Tribal Council.
Ignacio Town Trustee Sharon Craig expressed appreciation for the emergency storage project.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Craig said. “We’re very lucky to have such an amazing facility. Thank you.”
Other council members spoke, thanking the Utilities Division staff for their work in providing water to the community and emphasizing the importance of the project and water in the region.
“We appreciate everyone’s participation,” Seibel said. “Now the ball’s in your court, as they say, for the contractor to get it done on time and under budget.”