Lake Nighthorse in the works

As construction continues on the controversial Animas-La Plata project just south of downtown Durango, an interesting twist is developing in Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. introduced legislation on Tuesday to name the reservoir that would be constructed as part of the project after friend and fellow Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., of Ignacio.

The legislation would authorize renaming the Ridges Basin Reservoir, which is currently being bulldozed into existence above Bodo Park, as Lake Nighthorse. Domenici is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and said he offered the bill as a tribute to Campbell.

"It is fitting that the Ridges Basin Reservoir, which was created pursuant to legislation introduced and shepherded through Congress by Senator Campbell, bears his name," Domenici commented.

Campbell announced his retirement from the Senate earlier this year and is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged kickbacks and improprieties. However, Domenici looks beyond the allegations and said, "A veteran, Olympian and public servant, Senator Campbell has selflessly devoted himself to serving his state and country for more than half a century. During his 17 years in the House and then the Senate, he has earned respect on both sides of the aisle as a consummate statesman and staunch advocate for the state of Colorado."

Domenici also neglected to mention that not only does "Lake Nighthorse" not currently exist, but the Bureau of Reclamation has not obtained a decreed water right to divert Animas River water, pump it upstream and fill Ridges Basin Reservoir.

Instead, a statement reads, "The lake near Durango was created under the Colorado Ute Indian Water Settlement Act of 1988."

Hantavirus on the rise locally

Hantavirus is on the rise in the local region. Recent results from an ongoing study by Colorado State University indicate a local increase in the population of deer mice infected with the deadly disease. In previous years, similar increases have led to human cases of Hantavirus in the Durango area.

"Pretty much every other time we've seen these kinds of numbers, there has been a human case of Hantavirus in the Durango area," said Joe Fowler, epidemiologist for San Juan Basin Health Department.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) was first recognized in the Southwest in 1993. The virus is passed to humans through contact with urine, feces or saliva from an infected rodent.Breathing contaminated dust is the most common form of transmission. The virus cannot be passed from person to person and is not transmitted by dogs or cats that catch and eat rodents.

A 35.7 percent rate of infection which is considered high was detected among deer mice at the CSU Hesperus monitoring station recently.

"We haven't seen infection rates this high since 1999," Fowler said. "This is a definite spike. We've seen these mouse numbers recently, but not this level of infection."

Fowler encouraged local residents to exercise precaution, particularly when dealing with rodents and rodent-infested areas.

"We're all thinking about West Nile Virus right now, but we don't want to forget about Hantavirus either," he said.

Smart growth push clears hurdle

A local grass-roots organization is mounting a campaign to get a responsible growth initiative on November's ballot. This week, the group will begin to petition Durango voters. If 553 registered voters sign the petition before July 12, the initiative will have a spot on the ballot during this year's general election.

Essentially, the initiative would ask city residents to vote in favor of requiring the city government to get voter approval before annexing property into city limits. The provision would apply only to development greater than 10 residential units or commercial developments greater than 40,000 square feet. The initiative would also require developers to provide for the extension of city infrastructure. Renee Parsons, president of Friends of the Animas Valley, which is spearheading the effort, said concerns about unbridled growth prompted the initiative.

"Cityacceptance of the petition language is the first step to getting the Responsible Growth Initiative on the city's November ballot," Parsons said. "The initiative proposes to give city voters a voice in the city's plan to urbanize Durango to a population of 40,000."

City Clerk Linda Yeager said that she would be releasing petitions Thursday, June 10, and that the 37 individuals on the petitioners' committee will have until July 12 to collect the signatures. Assuming the signatures are collected and verified, the issue will go before the Durango City Council.

"Once they reach 553 registered voters, they have a certified petition," Yeager said. "At that time, I submit the initiative to the City Council and they have to decide whether to adopt it as legislation or submit it to a vote of the people."

City ponders recreation water rights

Commercial operators and recreational interest are encouraging the City of Durango to secure future flows on the Animas River. Last Monday, Public Works Director Jack Rogers addressed the Durango Water Commission on the possibility of securing water rights today to safeguard the river against future growth and development.

Rogers explained that if the city decides to go forward, it would file for water rights called recreational in-channel diversions. He said that they are similar to in-stream flow rights with a major difference.

"It's a technical difference," he said. "They are specifically for recreational purposes and in-stream flow rights are generally for environmental purposes."

Such water rights would have a 2004-05 priority and take precedence only over filings after that time. There's some question about whether such water rights would even significantly protect flows.

"I still don't know if it's going to make a difference in how the river is administered," Rogers said. "We need to look into that. The idea would be that none of the existing water rights would be damaged by this filing. This would safeguard flows on the Animas mainly against future growth and development."

The city plans on hosting a workshop with local water rights and property owners sometime in July. Rogers said that the city will decide whether or not to proceed at that point.

Campfires posing wildfire threat

With wildfire season nearly upon us, the San Juan Public Lands Center is encouraging people to fully extinguish their campfires. In the last week, firefighters have found half a dozen abandoned campfires on public lands in Southwest Colorado. Two of them escaped this past week and became small brush fires.

"Campers should always be sure their campfires are completely out before leaving their campsite," said Allen Farnsworth, fire mitigation and prevention specialist. "It's especially important right now with higher temperatures, high winds and grasses that are starting to dry out."While no burning restrictions are in place at this time, fire danger is increasing. Public land managers review various criteria every week to decide if it is time to enact fire restrictions. At this time, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management anticipate putting restrictions on in another two to three weeks if the area does not receive any moisture. This could come sooner if the number of human-caused fire increases.

"Without moisture, the fire danger will continue to increase over the next several weeks as the plentiful grasses from the spring begin to dry out," said Farnsworth.

compiled by Will Sands





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