Residents in southwest La Plata County have waited years for a hook up to central water, and it appears they will have to hold out a few more months after rains caused a delay in a pipeline project that promises to bring water out of the Animas River and into their homes.
“Everyone is pretty understanding,” said Barb McCall with La Plata West Water Authority.
Most parts of La Plata County have reliable sources of water through rivers, private water wells or reservoirs. The county’s far western half, however, has always dealt with a shortage of available water, earning it the moniker the “Dry Side.”
Efforts to launch smaller-scale projects to bring domestic water to homes and businesses to the west have been ongoing ever since the massive Animas-La Plata Project, which involved a dam north of Silverton and transmountain diversions, was downsized years ago.
In October 2018, La Plata West Water Authority celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony for a project that seeks to lay 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,” Roy Horvath, then-president of La Plata West Water Authority, said at the time. “Hopefully, this time next year, we’re turning water on.”
Horvath, officials said, is no longer with the organization.
Construction was supposed to wrap up this November, and McCall said, nearly 90% of the project was completed. However, storms around Thanksgiving made conditions too difficult for construction crews to put the finishing touches on the pipeline project.
As a result, La Plata West Water Authority officials made the decision Thursday to put construction on hold.
“We got an incredible amount of rain in this area,” McCall said. “We’re not complaining, we need it. But it made a whole bunch of mud that’s not conducive to heavy equipment. It makes a mess and the easement work is impossible.”
Depending on weather, La Plata West Water Authority officials hope to pick the project back up and complete it sometime in late February or early March.
McCall said the cost of construction, about $5 million, is on track. The project is funded largely in part by an estimated $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as residents who have purchased a tap in advance of the water being delivered.
In September, La Plata West Water Authority suspended all new subscriptions to the system.
“At some point, we need to say we’re done to get our engineering plans finished,” McCall said. “We can’t keep adding people on and on.”
Once the new pipeline project is complete, water from the Animas River will be pumped out of 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.
In spring 2018, a separate $5.3 million project saw the completion of a 4.6-mile pipeline that brings water from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango.
Eventually, La Plata West Water Authority has said it would like to expand its pipeline system and the number of homes it can serve, and in the long term, 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 no set time frame for that to happen.
McCall said updates about the pipeline project can be found on La Plata West Water Authority’s website at lpwwa.org.