Navajo-Gallup pipeline to break ground
The Animas La Plata Project may be water under the bridge, but A-LP’s big brother to the south is just getting going.

The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced a $10.75 million contract for the first phase of the long-stalled Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. The contract was awarded to McMillen LLC, of Boise, Idaho, which is expected to break ground on the first 4 miles of pipeline this summer north of Gallup.

When completed, the project will entail 280 miles of pipeline, 24 pumping plants, two water treatment plants and numerous water regulation and storage facilities at a cost of $1 billion. The project settles a longstanding dispute over the Navajo Nation’s San Juan River water rights, bringing water to more than 43 Navajo chapters, the city of Gallup, and the southwest corner of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

The milestone is being heralded by Navajo and federal officials for bringing a clean and reliable water supply to the Navajo Nation, where about 40 percent of residents haul water. It is estimated that the first water delivery to Navajo communities could occur as soon as 2014, according to the Department of the Interior.

“This marks a major milestone for this high-priority infrastructure project as we work to implement the historic water rights settlement,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced April 16.

In addition to providing water, the project is also expected to bring a much-needed economic boost to the impoverished region. As many as 450 jobs will be created during the first year of construction, with another 200 expected to be added during the peak of construction.

“In the short term, this project is expected to create hundreds of high-paying construction jobs; in the long-term, the permanent water supply will vastly improve the quality of life and offer greater economic security for the Navajo Nation,” said Salazar.

The completed project will draw 37,376 acre-feet, or 180 cfs, annually from the San Juan River, near Shiprock. With a 322,000-acre-foot capacity, the project will be able to support a population of 250,000 by the year 2040. (In comparison, A-LP is a 120,000-acre-foot project that came in at a cost of $500 million.) Despite this, it is estimated that the Navajo still needs another $2 billion in infrastructure to meet its water needs.

“It takes working together to beat the beast,” Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said at the signing of the settlement in 2010. “Because of the settlement, it will bring water to 80,000 of my people, many of whom are elders, up in years, who are hauling water to this day.”

First proposed in the 1960s, the project was approved by Congress in 2009. It is designed in phases, or “reaches,” and as per federal law, all construction must be completed by Dec. 31, 2024.

For updates on the project, go to

Input sought on Log Chutes downhill
One of Durango’s most beloved joy rides could be getting a makeover.

The Log Chutes downhill, a 3.5 mile stretch once used as the Nationals Downhill course, would get a buff and shine and be inducted as an official one-way only trail under a proposed plan by the San Juan National Forest. First floated by Trails 2000 in 2010, the “Log Chutes Downhill Mountain Bike Trail Project” calls for reconstructing and connecting the confusing mass of nonsystem and/or renegade trails that have sprouted up on the Forest Service land, northwest of Durango off Junction Creek Road. The new trail would be designated as a one-way downhill bike trail.

The goal of the Log Chutes plan is to provide a properly designed, safe and legal trail while eliminating potential conflicts with other users. The Forest Service is conducting a public comment period on the proposal through Wed., May 23. Trails 2000 has received grant money from the San Juan National Forest to implement the proposal, should it be approved.

“Right now, the Forest Service is scoping to get public input on what their thoughts, ideas and feelings are,” Jed Botsford, Columbine District Recreation Staff officer, said Tuesday.

According to the Forest Service, public lands across the nation are seeing a growing number of illegal downhill mountain bike trails, and the San Juan is no different. Although the Log Chutes downhill has been permitted over the years for a variety of special events, it is not an “official” Forest Service trail. Despite this, it has seen an increased amount of use as evidenced by truck loads of bikers often shuttling back up the road for another run.
“The sport started about 20 years ago now, but it is gaining more and more popularity every year,” Botsford said.

However, such trails create concerns, not only over resource impacts and poor trail design, but safety. “In our initial scoping, the answer was, ‘Yes, make it a single-direction, single-use trail,’ purely for safety reasons,” he said. “When people are screaming downhill on downhill bikes, if someone is on a horse going up, those two uses don’t really mesh.”

He said he knew of at least three other user-created rogue courses on local public lands – including one in the Middle Mountain area near Vallecito. “They just sort of popped up because demand was there, and people were looking for somewhere to ride,” he said.

The Log Chutes downhill would be the first officially designated trial of its kind in the area.

The proposed alignment would follow an old fire line as well as parts of  nonsanctioned roads and trails. The new trail would be adopted into the Forest Service’s system of trails and be consistent with the Forest Management Plan. In reviewing the plan, the Forest Service will look at potential effects on wildlife habitat, recreation and safety, noxious weed infestations, soil and watershed conditions, and cultural resources. Public comments will be included in a forthcoming draft environmental assessment.

Public input will be accepted until May 23 by writing Cam Hooley at Columbine Public Lands, P.O. Box 439, Bayfield, CO 81122 or emailing

Nature Studies opens visitors center
Mesa Verde isn’t the only one getting a new visitors center.

Durango Nature Studies will officially christen its new Welcome Building at its Learning Center, formerly known as the Nature Center, south of Durango on Highway 550 in Bondad on Sat., May 12, from 2 - 4 p.m.

The new 12-by-20-foot log structure will allow the center to be open to the public for the first time. “Locals and tourists alike have continued to ask over the years if the Nature Center was open to the public,” Nature Studies Director Sally Shuffield explained. “We had to say ‘no’ because we were not able to welcome visitors at the parking area and entrance that existed.”

Located on 140 acres along the Florida River, the Learning Center contains miles of trails, interpretive signs and a pavilion (sister to the Lion’s Den on the Fort Lewis College rim). Durango Nature Studies uses the property as an outdoor classroom for school groups, summer camps and workshops.

The building, which was made possible through a grant from BP as well as private donations, will be open Saturdays, starting May 19 through the end of October, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The building will sell some merchandise and provide natural history guides for check out and rent “Insect Investigation” backpacks that contain activities to do while at the Center. There will be hands-on activities in the building for younger children as well as outdoor-based activities and a sculpture garden.

“It is really a pretty big change and a great contribution to the community to now be able to visit the site,” said Shuffield.

Entrance to the Learning Center will be free for Durango Nature Studies members and children under 12; nonmembers are $5. For more information, call 769-1800, or visit

– Missy Votel

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows