The Durango City Council signed a resolution Tuesday supporting the delivery of water from Lake Nighthorse to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
“This water would really help our future,” Chairman Manuel Heart said.
The resolution stemmed from a series of recent meetings between city officials and the tribe about the potential recreational use of Lake Nighthorse, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
The city likely will send the resolution to Colorado’s U.S. senators and House members to help support the tribe as it seeks funding for infrastructure to deliver water.
Lake Nighthorse was built to provide Native American tribes, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, with water they are entitled to receive, said Justyn Hoch, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has water rights to about 31 percent of the water stored in the lake, but Congress has not funded infrastructure to bring it to the reservation, she said.
Congress has funded a pipeline to the Navajo Nation, which is nearing completion. It will deliver water to the Shiprock area. In addition, the Southern Utes could access water from Lake Nighthorse by releasing it back into the Animas and taking it out of a river diversion, she said.
However, the infrastructure for the Ute Mountain Utes was dropped from federal legislation in 2000, Heart said.
The tribal leadership already has met with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R.-Cortez, and has plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R.-Colorado, this year to talk about the need to fund a delivery system.
The additional water would allow for greater economic development on the reservation, Heart said. The reservation covers about 600,000 acres southwest of Cortez and has one of the largest farms in Montezuma County.
Ute Mountain Ute Councilor Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk also voiced her appreciation of the resolution because the reservation currently has limited water resources. While securing water delivery is a priority for the tribe, she expects it to be years before the tribe receives an appropriation.
She also said she respected the plan for recreational use, but she wanted to make sure the water was not polluted by recreation and the resource protected.
The city has submitted a recreation plan to the Bureau of Reclamation, but it is still being negotiated by all the entities that have an interest in the lake, Hoch said.
In particular, some of the tribes have a concern about the cultural resources around the lake and areas they would prefer be closed to the public, she said.