FORT LEWIS MESA – The effort to bring fresh drinking water for the first time to faucets in this parched section of La Plata County requires prompt action, community members were told Wednesday night.
The project calls for treating water from the Animas-La Plata Project and distributing it through a pipeline network to be built in phases. But hefty upfront tap fees of $15,000 are needed to fund construction.
Roy Horvath, chairman of the La Plata West Water Authority, and Jeff Shamburg and Adam Olson from Bartlett & West consultants with headquarters in Topeka, Kan., broke the news during a meeting at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School.
Federal stimulus funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development didn’t materialize, Horvath said. The tap fee is a big hit, but project proponents have to show progress to acquire further funding, he said.
The fee would be due in the second quarter of 2014, with a two-year construction period starting later that year. Meanwhile, the consultants must acquire easements across properties to lay pipeline, finalize a water-treatment agreement and look for solid funding sources.
In this corner of La Plata County, broadly known as the Dryside, streams and irrigation ditches flow intermittently, ground water is scarce, and wells are often dry. Ranchers rely on rain and water from ditches off the La Plata River. Few residents have well water that is potable, so those who don’t, haul water for drinking and cooking and use well water – if they have it – for other household uses.
So it’s no wonder that the long-delayed A-LP Project, which has water for three Native American tribes and nontribal entities in Colorado and New Mexico – seven entities total – holds out hope for potable water.
Three years ago, 650 residents put up $500 each as a commitment toward taking a tap.
The Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District, anticipating demand for water, reserved 2,600 acre-feet from the A-LP. The city of Durango signed up for 1,900 acre-feet, and 700 acre-feet were held for the La Plata West Water Authority.
La Plata West has the water, although still unpaid for, and a $5.7 million intake structure near Lake Nighthorse, but no treatment plant and no delivery network. So directors are negotiating with another water supplier that’s in a bind – the Lake Durango Water Authority, which has a treatment plant and a distribution system, but not enough water for the Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trappers Crossing subdivisions. The source of Lake Durango water is ditches.
In the works is an agreement for Lake Durango to treat water for La Plata West in exchange for some of its 700 acre-feet. Lake Durango also would use its distribution grid to transport treated water to Blue Hill, a high point where a tank would supply La Plata West customers through a gravity-fed line.
The first area to be served is bounded north and south by the intersection of La Plata Highway (Colorado Highway 140) and Wildcat Canyon Road (County Road 141) and the community of Kline, and east and west by Long Hollow and the La Plata River.
As proposed, customers would pay $90 to $120 a month for up to 5,000 gallons. The goal is to obtain 5 to 10 gallons a minute at the faucet.
An estimated 169 committed and potential customers live in the first-phase area. Overall, through phase four, the total number currently is 703.
The need for upfront financing is evidenced by a projected cost of $3.8 million for the first phase. The sale of 169 taps would raise barely $2.5 million. The La Plata West board settled on a still tentative $15,000 per tap after considering $12,000 to $20,000.
In a wide-ranging give-and-take Wednesday night, merits of financing the project through other means arose. Also discussed were a possible increase in cost to late subscribers, a latent demand for water for municipal and industrial needs, and the possible sale eventually of surplus water. The current population would use 300 acre feet of water if everyone subscribed.
The status of the Dryside project is far from perfect, but hesitation could cause it to falter, Horvath said.
“There is some urgency,” he said. “The numbers are high and scary, but, with the drought, we know what the consequences can be.”
The Animas-La Plata Project came through a settlement of water claims by Native American tribes. The centerpiece is Lake Nighthorse, a constructed basin about two miles southwest of Durango. A pipeline for the Navajo Nation is being built near Farmington.
A-LP partners in New Mexico are the Navajo Nation, La Plata Water Conservancy District and the San Juan Water Commission. The Colorado members are the state, the Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
The two Ute tribes also own most of the intake to be used for the Dryside project. The tribes paid $4.5 million of the $5.7 million cost.