Navajo pipeline stalled in D.C.

Two New Mexico senators are working to override Bush Administration opposition to what is becoming a controversial Four Corners water project. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici announced last week that they will press for a settlement of the Navajo Nation’s water claims to San Juan River Basin water in spite of federal reluctance.

The Navajo-Gallup water supply project would dwarf the Animas-La Plata project both in finances and infrastructure. Late in 2003, the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government reached an agreement on water rights owed to the tribe with the Navajos agreeing to limit their share of San Juan River water to 322,000 acre-feet per year. Nearly $900 million in federal funding would also be given to the tribe to construct an elaborate pipeline, which would siphon water out of the San Juan River near Shiprock and feed the eastern side of the reservation. As proposed, the pipeline would take as much as 180 cubic feet per second of the San Juan in order to provide drinking water to as many as 250,000 people.

However, the Navajo settlement is presently stalled in Washington, D.C. Last week, the New Mexico senators sought to break the deadlock. Bingaman recently introduced and Domenici cosponsored the Northwestern New Mexico Rural Water Projects Act, which would codify the Navajo settlement and pave the way for the pipeline. In introducing the legislation, Bingaman and Domenici noted that as many as 40 percent of Navajos still haul water.

“The lack of water infrastructure on the Navajo Nation is deplorable,” Domenici said. “I’ve long dreamed of bringing a reliable source of water to the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup. It’s a problem that has existed for far too long, and we now have a plan to realistically address this. We must move forward.”

However, shortly after introducing the bill, Bingaman and Domenici learned that the Bush administration opposes the settlement and pipeline. In their testimony, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson and Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman alleged that the federal government was left out of the process that led to the settlement agreement. The administration also claimed the roughly $900 million it would cost to implement the settlement was too high.

Domenici and Bingaman countered that the administration has spent almost $2.5 billion to settle water rights claims in other parts of the West in the last four years.

“I found the Bush administration’s testimony very disturbing,” Bingaman said. “Six years ago, I asked the Interior Department to get involved with negotiations, and I was told a team was assigned to participate. Now the department is claiming they weren’t involved. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and Gallup Mayor Bob Rosebrough have both argued that the pipeline is badly needed on the impoverished Navajo Nation. Last week, during a hearing on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, Shirley said the project was critical to providing a secure, permanent homeland for the Navajo people. “Without this project, Navajo families will continue to haul water and economic growth will be discouraged.”

Critics of the pipeline charge that it would dewater the lower San Juan River, harm current New Mexico water users on the San Juan and Animas rivers and would be a burden on American taxpayers.

Golf swap continues to heat up

Opposition to a proposed land exchange between the Forest Service and the Glacier Club at Tamarron is continuing to grow. The Glacier Club at Tamarron has proposed developing a portion of the Haviland Lake Recreation Area in exchange for two other parcels high on the Forest Service’s wish list. The agency recently deemed the proposal to be worthy of study and launched a public comment period.

Tamarron has secured options to purchase two 160-acre parcels that represent the only private inholdings remaining in the Hermosa Creek Roadless Area. One is located near the Hermosa Creek trailhead and the other sits high above the Animas River Valley at Mitchell Lakes. In exchange, the golf resort has requested 265 acres north of the existing resort and currently inside the Haviland Lake Recreation Area near Chris Park. The acreage

would be divided into homesites and another nine holes of golf would be built, bringing the resort’s total to 36 holes.

Although Tamarron has attempted to lighten the impact of the exchange, many people and groups have voiced their desire to see the area south of Haviland Lake remain in public hands.

Kitty Benzar, of the group Save Haviland Lake Recreation Area, commented, “It’s a flawed exchange. The two parcels the Forest Service would get are remote, inaccessible in the winter and don’t see nearly the amount of recreation that the Haviland Lake area does. It would be a shame to take this resource away from the public and give it to the wealthy few.”

Following a meeting last week, members of Save Haviland Lake Recreation Area drafted a resolution they will present to the La Plata County commissioners next week. On July 10, the commissioners will consider whether to adopt the document, which would oppose the exchange and ask that the San Juan National Forest retain the entire existing Haviland Recreation Area in public ownership. The discussion is expected sometime in the morning after 10 a.m.

Fire season arrives in San Juans

Fire season has arrived in the San Juan Mountains, and fire managers are allowing a small fire near the Vallecito Creek Trail to burn, at least for now.

Triggered by lightning, the Dead Horse fire is burning adjacent to the Vallecito Creek Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness. The fire, estimated at 10 acres on Tuesday morning, is about 6 miles north of the Vallecito Creek Trailhead and is burning in scattered spruce-fir forest at about 9,600 feet in elevation.

The Dead Horse fire has been designated a Wildland Use Fire, which allows naturally ignited fires to play its natural role in the ecosystem. Because the fire is remote and is not threatening structures or safety, it will be allowed to burn and monitored daily from the air and ground.

Ron Klatt, fire management officer for the Columbine Ranger District in Bayfield, observed the fire on Tuesday and did not observe any trees torching. “The fire was creeping and smoldering among dead branches and needles on the ground,” he said.  

Meanwhile, continued dry and hot conditions and the serious threat of fire prompted La Plata County commissioners to enact restrictions on open burning this week.

The fire restrictions prohibit open burning, burn barrels and agricultural burning on private property in the unincorporated areas of La Plata County and on property owned by La Plata County. The use of a campfire, coal or wood-burning stove, any type of charcoal grill or open fire in any undeveloped area is also prohibited. The fire restrictions do not include charcoal fires in suitable containers or gas grills for barbeques at private residences or fires within designated campground pits with protective grates.  

Fourth of July community fireworks displays were allowed to go forward this week. However, the use of fireworks and explosives by the public is strictly prohibited.  Meanwhile both the San Juan Public Lands and Mesa Verde National Park entered week two of their Stage 1fire bans.

– compiled by Will Sands



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