Billion dollar water deal moves ahead

A new Four Corners water project that would dwarf Animas-La Plata in terms of finances and infrastructure has made a critical step forward. The State of New Mexico has approved its side of a San Juan River settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation, a deal that could forever change the large regional river. The settlement, along with a $750 million funding request to build the project, are expected to be introduced before Congress.

The agreement would settle the tribe's water claims by appropriating more than 50 percent of the San Juan River Basin's water to the estimated $900 million project. The majority of the funding would be allocated to the construction of an elaborate pipeline that would siphon water out of the San Juan River in the vicinity of Shiprock and feed the eastern side of the reservation. As proposed, the pipeline would supply water to as many as 250,000 people by the year 2040. The proposed agreement also includes details of how water would be delivered to the pipeline from Bureau of Reclamation water projects including Navajo Reservoir and the Animas-La Plata Project.

New Mexico State Engineer John D'Antonio explained, "The Navajo Nation is giving up any future claims to water by settling for this amount that has been negotiated. They will also get some much-needed capital improvement dollars."

Last week, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission unanimously signed off on the project.

"It brings the endless opportunity for self-determination of the Navajo Nation," Navajo Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates told the commission. "The settlement may not be a perfect settlement, but it is there."

The settlement now proceeds to New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Gov. Bill Richardson for their signatures. U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., are expected to introduce the settlement along with an $750 million appropriation request, to the 109th Congress.

"The agreement determines what water rights the Navajo Nation owns and in what amount in the San Juan Basin," D'Antonio concluded. "It is good for non-Indian water users because it draws to a close years of uncertainty with regard to water rights claims."

Salazar pledges to keep tabs on A-LP

Meanwhile, the Animas-La Plata Project received a critical review last week from recently elected U.S. Representative John Salazar. After touring the project Thurs., Jan. 13, Salazar said that he supports A-LP but will not stand for more cost overruns. Last year, the Bureau of Reclamation explained that the original cost estimates of $337.9 million were dramatically low. The costs of the project, located just southwest of downtown Durango, are now expected to be $500 million, a jump of nearly $163 million, or 50 percent.

Salazar was joined last Thursday by several community leaders on a fact-finding mission to better understand the cost overruns associated with the project.

"I came to Congress to make sure our taxpayer dollars come back to the district and that money is spent wisely," said Salazar. "It's a shame this project has become so costly, and we must do all we can to make sure the costs are brought under control."

With a price tag of $52 million annually, A-LP is the largest appropriation of federal dollars in Salazar's district.

"I'm a farmer and a rancher, so I sympathize with the people who need this water," he said. "I would definitely be open to a third party audit or oversight of the project, but not at the expense of its completion. We have already invested too much time and money into this project, and we must see it through to completion - efficiently and at the original pace of the plan."

Salazar also expressed concern about the allocation of water currently outlined in the A-LP agreement, which stipulates that it may not be used for agriculture.

"Water is the lifeblood of our rural communities and agriculture," he said. "We need to make sure the water is authorized to go not just to the municipalities, but directly to the irrigators."

Navy christens U.S.S. Mesa Verde

The newest U.S. Navy ship was christened the U.S.S. Mesa Verde last week in honor of the national park. Linda Price Campbell, wife of former Sen. Ben Nighthorse, R-Colo., of Ignacio, coordinated the christening ceremony and christened the ship with the traditional breaking of the bottle of champagne across the bow.Sacred water from a Mesa Verde cliff dwelling also was sprinkled on the bow of the ship with a brush made from the yucca plant. Peter Pino, former governor of the Zia Pueblo, added an American Indian blessing during the ceremony.

Mesa Verde is the third ship in the Navy's new San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships used to transport and land Marines. The Mesa Verde is 684 feet in length and is capable of embarking a landing force of approximately 800 Marines.

The Springs Resort changes hands

New owners have taken over The Springs-Hot Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs. The uniquely designed hot spring resort is now in the hands of Nerissa Whittington and Keely Whittington-Reyes, the owners of the real estate and property management company Gulfstream Worldwide.

The new owners have owned property and a home in Archuleta County for decades and say they plan to continue in the Springs Resort tradition and enhance the event and family atmosphere of the resort.

"We have a collective commitment to preservation and maintenance of the health and well-being of the world famous Great Pagosa Hot Spring," Nerissa Whittington said. "This is an exciting time for my family and myself, as we return to our second home and the low impact ecotourism that makes this area unique."

USFS looks for artists-in-residence

The San Juan National Forest is accepting applications for the Aspen Guard Station Artist-in-Residence Program through March 1. The residency program, now in its 10th year, is open to painters, writers, poets, musicians, photographers, sculptors, performers, dancers and other artists.

Those selected for residencies will stay at the historic Aspen Guard Station for one to two weeks during the summer or fall of 2005. The rustic log cabin, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is a former ranger station set in an aspen grove 12 miles north of Mancos. In return for their residencies, artists donate a piece of artwork portraying their stay at the cabin and share their talents with the public through exhibits, performances, open houses or workshops.

Applications are available at the San Juan Public Lands Center, 15 Burnett Court, and on the web at: For information, call 385-1219.

- compiled by Will Sands





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index