Navajo pipeline forges ahead

A massive new water project proposed just across state lines in northwest New Mexico is forging ahead. The Navajo Nation is on track to build a nearly $900 million pipeline that would siphon 322,000 acre-feet of water out of the San Juan River each year. Amid concerns and criticism, the project is now off to the U.S. Congress for a vote.

Called the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the pipeline would dwarf Animas-La Plata in terms of finances and infrastructure. The majority of the funding for the Navajo project would go to the construction of an elaborate pipeline that would siphon water out of the San Juan and feed the eastern side of the reservation, including the City of Gallup. As proposed, the pipeline would supply water to as many as 250,000 people by the year 2040.

Earlier this month, the Upper Colorado River Commission accepted a “hydrologic determination” that there is enough water available for the pipeline. The determination was the only remaining hurdle before the project heads to Washington, DC for approval.  

“You can’t overstate how important an obstacle this was to overcome,” said Ray Gilmore, chairman of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission. “It certainly eliminates a huge obstacle.”

The Navajo Nation argues that the pipeline will bring critical water development to the tribe. However, critics of the proposal counter that there is insufficient water available for the project, it would dewater the lower San Juan River, including the stretches used for river running, and would harm junior water users on the Animas and San Juan rivers. Phil Doe, chair of the Citizens’ Progressive Alliance, raised several concerns in a recent letter.

“It would, primarily, bring water to Gallup NM, which has dreams of becoming a recreational Mecca, the next Moab, really, if only we’ll underwrite a monumental public works program for the 20,000 residents of this city,” Doe wrote.

Doe, a former Bureau of Reclamation employee, goes on to argue that the recent “hydrologic determination” was flawed and that there is actually insufficient water for the pipeline.

“It seems the water boys in Colorado and New Mexico have decided . . . that because the upper Colorado River system’s reservoirs are extremely low from the drought, that evaporation from them has been greatly exaggerated,” the letter stated. “Missing from this happy scenario is the complicating reality that these reservoirs are low for a reason.”

  Stricter fire restrictions imposed

The continuing drought in the Four Corners region has forced area fire managers to heighten fire restrictions. Meanwhile large swaths of Colorado and Arizona are steadily burning.

Continued low moisture levels, high winds and dry grasses have forced more stringent fire restrictions. Beginning on July 1, stage II fire restrictions go into effect on all San Juan Public Lands outside the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas.

Stage II restrictions prohibit: Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, coal or wood burning stove, any type of charcoal fueled broiler or open fire of any type. This includes all developed campgrounds and picnic areas; smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building; using any kind of explosive material; use of any kind of torch with an open flame; and operating any internal combustion engine without a sparkarresting device.

Open fire restrictions have also been enacted throughout La Plata County, on Southern Ute Indian Tribe lands, in Mesa Verde National Park and on State of Colorado lands including the Perins Peak, Haviland Lake, Pastorius Reservoir and Bodo state wildlife areas in La Plata County.

“People need to realize that there is serious wild fire danger on all of these properties and throughout Colorado,” said Tom Spezze, southwest regional manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Meanwhile, wildfires are burning in more than 10 states, and a dozen western states have rated their fire conditions to be very high or extreme. Firefighters were expecting containment on a 4,200-acre blaze near Sedona in northern Arizona. However, a 50,000-acre wildfire is burning near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, stranding hundreds of people and forcing evacuations.

Closer to home, the Malo Vega Fire, near Pueblo, was estimated at 14,000 acres on Monday and 50 percent contained. The Coolbroth Fire, 12 miles north of Del Norte, was 70 percent contained. Fire managers expect wildfires to move steadily north into Colorado and Wyoming as the season progresses.

Durango sets sights on Hollywood

Durango is doing its best to reach out to Hollywood. The Colorado State Film Commission was recently signed back into existence and John Cohen, Executive Director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, has been appointed to serve on the board.

Authorized by the Colorado Legislature in July 1969, the Colorado Film Commission is the oldest legislated film commission in the world. Its purpose is to promote Colorado as a location for making feature films, television shows, television commercials, still photography, music videos and other types of emerging mass media projects. In addition, the Film Commission serves as a liaison during production with state agencies, counties, cities and individual residents and business throughout Colorado.

“The southwest portion of Colorado offers filmmakers a wide range of potential locations that can become integral parts of a film, commercial or still photo shoot,” says Kevin Shand, Interim Executive Director of the Colorado Film Commission. “We are pleased that we now have John Cohen and the Durango area to help us showcase everything the southwestern part of our state has to offer the production industry.”

Cohen lived in Las Vegas prior to Durango and is familiar with the behind-the-scenes workings and negotiations involved in the film industry. His most recent success was with the Blue Man Group and Hollywood will renew its interest in the Durango area.

“Durango is a great filming location and we want to reinvigorate filming in the area,” he said. “Several years ago Durango had several blockbusters shot here including ‘Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid’ and ‘City Slickers.’ We hear over and over from film crews how easy and pleasant it is to shoot in Durango/La Plata County.  Durango has a lot to offer the film community.”

D&SNGRR asks for community input

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a making another effort to reach out to the community. The train has created a web page to give members of the community the opportunity to submit comments, questions, suggestions, and observations to the railroad.  

The page was created in an effort to be a better neighbor to the Durango community, according to Paul Schranck, Vice President and General Manager of the D&SNGRR.

“We want to be more in touch with the community and felt this was a good way for people to share their thoughts with us,” he said.

The address can be found at http: // communityinfo and can also be accessed from the railroad site atwww.durangotrain.comon the “Contact Us” page. The submission page requires a name, address, and phone number in order to be accepted, which will also allow for a response.

-compiled by Will Sands