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San Juan & Dolores River Basins


Colorado Foundation for Water Education 1580 Logan St., Suite 410 • Denver, CO 80203 303-377-4433 • www.cfwe.org Headwaters is a quarterly magazine designed to provide Colorado citizens with balanced and accurate information on a variety of subjects related to water resources. Copyright 2004 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. ISSN: 1546-0584 A CKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Colorado Foundation for Water Education thanks all the people and organizations that provided review, comment and assistance in the development of this issue.

M ISSION S TATEMENT

The mission of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education is to promote better understanding of water resources through education and information. The Foundation does not take an advocacy position on any water issue. STAFF Karla A. Brown Executive Director Carrie Patrick Assistant

LETTER FROM EDITOR ..........................................................1 IN THE NEWS .....................................................................2 CFWE HIGHLIGHTS ............................................................3 BASIN FOCUS / SAN JUAN AND DOLORES RIVERS .....................4 Basin Facts................................................................................ 4 Animas-La Plata Project ........................................................... 6 Fred Kroeger, President of Southwestern Water Conservation District

LaPlata City Domestic Water Problems .................................. 10 Dolores Conservancy .............................................................. 12 Ute Mountain Ute Farm Enterprise ........................................ 16

PROFILE ...........................................................................18 Sam Maynes

ORDER FORM ...................................................................21

OFFICERS President Diane Hoppe State Representative 1st Vice President Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. Colorado Supreme Court 2nd Vice President Becky Brooks Colorado Water Congress Secretary Wendy Hanophy Colorado Division of Wildlife Assistant Secretary Lynn Herkenhoff Southwestern Water Conservation District Treasurer Tom Long, Summit County Commissioner Assistant Treasurer Matt Cook Coors Brewing At Large Taylor Hawes Northwest Council of Governments

Dick Lunceford, working with the La Plata-Archuleta Water Task Force, p. 10

Rod Kuharich Colorado Water Conservation Board Lori Ozzello Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Trustees Rita Crumpton, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District Lewis H. Entz, State Senator Frank McNulty, Colorado Division of Natural Resources Brad Lundahl, Colorado Water Conservation Board

McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River.

David Nickum, Trout Unlimited Tom Pointon, Agriculture

� � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � �

About the Cover: Snow Spur Creek, part of the headwaters of the Dolores River, flows through a mountain meadow near Lizard Head Pass. (Counterclockwise from top): Rick Ehat, project construction engineer for the Animas-La Plata Project, Philip Saletta, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, and Ernest House, former tribal chairman for the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe. Photos by Michael Lewis, pottery photo by Eric Wunrow.

John Porter, Colorado Water Congress Chris Rowe, Colorado Watershed Network

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Southwestern �

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Rick Sackbauer, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Gerry Saunders, University of Northern Colorado Ann Seymour, Colorado Springs Utilities Reagan Waskom, Colorado State University

San Juan & Dolores River Basins


Watermarks Basin Focus: San Juan and Dolores Rivers

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ach year, Headwaters selects one river basin to explore in depth, giving readers insight into the area’s major river systems, local land use, environment, water rights and storage, recreation, and the people who manage and monitor the area’s water resources. For our basin focus this fall, the Foundation selected the Dolores and San Juan River Basins of southwest Colorado. Interviews with conservancy district managers, watershed coalition organizers, lawyers, ranchers, tribal leaders, and engineers in charge of construction of the Animas-La Plata project highlighted the breadth of the water concerns in this predominantly arid area. It is a diverse landscape. How quickly the country changes as one travels from the forested green headwaters of the Dolores River near Lizard Head Pass, Standing on the south end of the future dam embankment, Barry Longwell, Animas-La Plata to the dry mesas and meager flows of the deputy construction engineer, explains Ridges Basin Dam construction operations to Karla Brown, La Plata River near the New Mexico state CFWE executive director. The future dam will fill the valley below, running north-south to interline. And let us not forget that this modsect Carbon Mountain in the background. est basin is also part of the larger Upper Colorado River—one of the most heavily used and politically- for its water future. divisive river systems in the world. Although there were many more stories we could have Yet upon further study, what quickly becomes apparent told, we hope this issue will expose readers in Colorado and is how closely these watersheds and water management throughout the West to the communities and resources of the concerns interconnect. Not only geographically but also San Juan and Dolores river systems. I also would like to thank metaphorically, the Animas-La Plata project sits near the all of the region’s water leaders who took time from their busy center of the basin—the 30-year wait for its construction schedules to help explain their concerns, showcase their projembodying many of the region’s greatest hopes and fears ects, and have their pictures taken.

Photos by Michael Lewis

Karla Brown Editor and Executive Director

HEADWATERS – FALL, 2003

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State Legislators Get a Water-Wise Tour of Southwestern Colorado

Photo by Michael Lewis

Don’t Forget: October 18 is World Water Quality Monitoring Day

Philip Saletta, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, explains to state legislators how water is delivered from McPhee Reservoir.

DENVER, CO—In August, members of the Colorado Legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee, and other members of the public, participated in a four-day bus tour of the San Juan and Dolores basins. Previously an interim committee, the now permanent 10-person committee is cochaired by Senator Lewis H. Entz and Representative Diane Hoppe. This year’s tour started in Denver and followed the Colorado River to Grand Junction, where it turned southwards through the Uncompahgre Valley. The next day the group traveled to the Dolores Conservancy District and the Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise. Speakers from various organizations accompanied the bus, keeping legislators busy with a stream of information. On the third day, the group

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toured the La Plata Valley and the proposed Long Hollow Reservoir site, finishing up the afternoon with a stop at the Animas-La Plata project. The final day, the group continued over to Pagosa Springs, and then through the San Luis Valley on their way back to Denver. A variety of sponsors help fund the trip, providing an excellent opportunity for legislators to familiarize themselves with water-related concerns explained firsthand by the people who deal with them everyday. The Committee has been making an effort over the last several years to tour its members through every river basin in state. “And we have almost made it to all of them,” relates current chair Diane Hoppe. “The only basin we haven’t covered is the Yampa and White in northwestern Colorado—maybe next year!”

On October 18, volunteer monitoring groups, water quality agencies, students, and the general public are invited to join together to take an instant snap shot of the world’s water quality. Four key indicators of water quality should be monitored: temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. To participate, choose any lake, stream, or other waterbody where you can safely monitor. Register your site on the World Water Monitoring Day registration database at www.worldwatermonitoringday.org/ You can either use your own equipment or the site has test kits for sale. After you have collected information about your site, they encourage all participants to report their data for inclusion in the annual World Water Monitoring Day summary reports. Locally, groups such as the Big Thompson Watershed Forum are partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment, Division of Wildlife and others to make this into a day-long training for teachers. “This is a great opportunity to share hands-on experience about the realities of water monitoring and educate the community about water quality issues,” notes Rob Buirgy the Forum’s coordinator. “This will be the third year we’ve participated in this event, and we have plenty of good ideas we would be happy to share with other organizations who would like to do something similar.” The Big Thompson Watershed Forum may be contacted at 970-613-6161 or www.btwatershed.org.

COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


Teaching the Poetry of Rivers The Foundation for Water Education recently released a new online program for teachers called Teaching the Poetry of Rivers. The program provides free online lesson plans addressing the interdisciplinary study of watersheds and poetry, and assists students to develop submissions to the River of Words Poetry Contest. The program is currently accepting teachers to implement and review its preliminary version. The program includes five self-paced lesson plans integrating culture, history, poetry and watershed science. Step-by-step instruction for teaching students the process of writing poetry is provided, as well as readings, activities, photographs and Internet links related

to each lesson. Each lesson is also correlated to the Colorado Student Assessment Program Standards (CSAP). Developed by accomplished poet and teacher Dr. Kathryn Winograd, this program attempts to help teachers integrate science, writing, and critical thinking skills. The River of Words Poetry Contest is an annual environmental poetry contest for children ages 5 through 9. Over 200 entries were received in Colorado last year. Awards are presented at the state level, with the award winners presenting their work at a celebration at the Governor’s mansion. All Colorado poems are entered in the national competition. If you are interesting in participating in this program, contact the Foundation offices at (303)377-4433, or look online at www.cfwe.org/row

rtesy

Cou day

Hey s

Book

Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Water Heritage The latest in the Foundation’s Citizen Guide series, this project draws together the expertise of six prominent historians and scholars from throughout Colorado and the West. Uniting their pieces is the theme of “water & community: how water shapes Colorado’s culture, history, and identity.” Selecting different historical time periods, prominent cultural figures, and river basins around the state, their essays address topics such as Puebloan reservoirs in Mesa Verde, the first irrigation ditches in Colorado, and the politicians behind much of Colorado’s water development in the last century.

We are particularly excited to bring to the public’s attention Colorado’s Native American, Hispano, and Anglo contributions to our water heritage. It is our hope that this guide will become important background reading material for those interested in water resource issues, as well as a valuable teaching aid for the classroom. Copies of the guide are $8 each or $6 each if ordering 10 or more. To order booklets, visit the Foundation’s Web site at www. cfwe.org or contact the office at (303)377-4433.

HEADWATERS – FALL, 2003

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Focus on SouthWestern Colorado

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Sa

wo major river systems define southwestern Colorado: the San Juan and Dolores. The San Juan River originates in the mountain range bearing its name, coalescing in the forested slopes and narrow valleys near Wolf Creek Pass as it starts its descent southward into New Mexico. By the time it crosses the state line, its waters are already impounded in the sizeable confines of Navajo Reservoir. On its journey, it will also pick up waters from its major tributaries the Piedra, Rio Blanco and Navajo River. The Dolores River gathers its’ waters from the snow-laden mountainsides of the Lizard Head Wilderness Area south of Telluride. Not far away, the San Miguel River collects and flows northwest, forming the northern-most watershed in the basin. The San Miguel flows all the way down to the state border before joining up with the Dolores River as it makes a giant “U” around the mountains and flows north and west into Utah. In the southwestern corner, the Mancos, La iv er lR Plata, and Animas rivers also drain out of the n e Migu mountains and eventually join up with the San Juan River. On a larger scale, the San Juan and Dolores are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Dolores meets up with the Colorado River just north of Moab, and the San Juan River mixes with the Colorado River at Lake Powell in southern Utah. ❑

Photo by Michael Lewis

SAN JUAN AND DOLORES RIVER BASINS

Dolores

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Animas River

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• Animas-La Plata Project

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• Cortez

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• McPhee Reservoir

• Navajo Reservoir

COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

Navajo

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G ROWTH Population 2000 133,282 Population 2030 (projected) 172,000 • Projected increases in municipal, commercial, industrial and private well demand by the year 2030: 60% • Additional water supply required to meet these demands: 22,000 acre-feet/year Source: Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI), Colorado Water Conservation Board

W ATER P ROTECTION AND M ANAGEMENT O RGANIZATIONS Water Conservation Districts Water conservation districts are the local water-policy making bodies created by the Colorado General Assembly “to protect and develop the water to which Colorado is entitled.” One district covers the entire basin: the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Photo by Eric Wunrow

Water Conservancy Districts Water conservancy districts are local governmental agencies originally created to construct, pay for and operate water projects. There are eight districts in the basin: Animas-La Plata, La Plata, Dolores, Florida, Mancos, Paradox, San Juan, and San Miguel. Watershed Groups Watershed groups in the area are working on a wide diversity of concerns related to river protection and improvement. According to the Colorado Watershed Assembly, there are seven active groups in the basin: Animas River Stakeholders Group, Dolores River Coalition, Dolores River Watershed Forum, Friends of the East Fork, Friends of the Animas, Pine River Watershed Group, and the San Miguel Watershed Coalition.

M AJOR W ATER S TORAGE P ROECTS Reservoir

Normal Storage (acre-feet)

McPhee

381,100

Vallecito

129,700

Animas-La Plata

120,000

Lemon

40,100

Cascade

23,254

Groundhog

21,000

Narraguinnep

18,960

Williams Creek

10,084

Jackson Gulch

9,980

Summit

5,954

(under construction)

Source: Colorado Water Conservation Board, Basin Fact Sheets

E NDANGERED S PECIES Two endangered fish species are present in the San Juan River: the pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. To assist in the recovery of these species, the states of Colorado and New Mexico, local water users, hydropower customers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others, have developed the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program. Recovery is being encouraged through improvements to habitat conditions, reductions in non-native fish populations, and implementation of native fish stocking programs. In addition, more water is being added to the San Juan River through re-operation of Navajo Reservoir.

W ATER Q UALITY The following streams in the San Juan/Dolores Basin have been placed on the State’s 2004 303(d) list of impaired water bodies—meaning they do not meet water quality standards. The state requires that total maximum daily load (TMDL) calculations be conducted on all listed segments, to evaluate all the pollutant sources causing the problem. River Segment

Water Quality Problem

TMDL Priority

Dolores River, Bear Creek to Bradfield Ranch Bridge

Cadmium, Zinc

High

Tributaries to the Dolores and West Dolores Rivers

Cadmium, Zinc

High

Silver Creek from Rico DW diversion to Dolores River

Cadmium, Zinc

High

Mancos River and tributaries above HWY 160

Copper

High

Narraguinnep, Puett, and Totten Reservoirs

Mercury

High

Impairment to aquatic life use (unknown pollutants)*

Dolores River Below McPhee Reservoir

*Although the State did not recommend that this segment be placed on the 303(d) list, in July 2004 the EPA used their federal authority to list it for aquatic life impairments potentially related to temperature, sediment, and nutrients. A final listing decision based on public comment, has not yet been completed. Source: Colorado Dept of Public Health and Environment, Water Quality Control Commission, Regulation #93, 2004 Section 303 (d) List of Water Quality-Limited Segments.

HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

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Photos by Michael Lewis

Looking north toward Carbon Mountian, the future footprint of Ridges Basin Dam runs north-south across the valley. Excavating to bedrock, crews have removed more than one million yards of soil in the last year.

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COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


Animas-La Plata Project “It’s the only dam in the nation the Bureau of Reclamation is currently building ‘from the ground up’ ” —Barry Longwell ALP Deputy Construction Engineer

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nimas-La Plata is Colorado’s most recent federallyfunded water storage project. In fact, ALP’s Ridges Basin Dam, now under construction just south of Durango, is the only dam in the nation the Bureau of Reclamation is currently building “from the ground up.” It took more than 30 difficult years to finalize ALP. The complicated timeline and bitter legal fights littering the project’s history look remarkably like a maze—with plenty of false endings and wrong turns. A lot was at stake here: endangered fish, Indian tribal water rights, tie-ins to the Colorado River system (one of the most heavily used and politically-charged river basins in the world), local economic development, water quality concerns, and the list goes on. The resulting scaled-down project began construction in 2002. Devoted primarily to tribal and municipal/industrial water use—with no water for agricultural irrigation—it reflects the divergent needs of the beneficiaries involved and the stakeholders concerned.

T HEN AND N OW In 1968, Congress first authorized ALP under the Colorado River Storage Project Act. Original plans envisioned a massive project that would include multiple reservoirs, miles of canals and laterals, and huge pumping stations. A significant portion of the project was for agricultural irrigation (later eliminated) diverting water from the Animas River (with flows averaging 720,000 acre-feet annually) and moving some of that water to the drier La Plata River Valley to the west (with flows averaging 30,000 acrefeet annually), which is predominated by dry land farming. The ALP project under construction today includes a 120,000 acre-foot Ridges Basin Reservoir and Ridges Basin Dam, Durango Pumping Plant to lift water from the Animas River through a 2.1mile conduit up to the reservoir, and development of an almost 29-mile pipeline to supply municipal water to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Water will be pumped from the Animas River, stored in the reservoir, and released via a series of drop structures back into the river for downstream deliveries to tribal and urban areas around the San Juan Basin in Colorado and New Mexico. Stored water may also be conveyed via pipeline to rural areas west of Durango; however funding for these structures is not part of the project. More than half the water is designated for use by two Colorado Indian tribes, the Ute Mountain Ute, and the Southern Utes. How they will use their water remains to be decided. ❑ HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

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Animas-La Plata BY THE NUMBERS WATER USE: C OLORADO

AND

N EW M EXICO

Consumptive Use1 (Acre-feet/year)

Project Beneficiaries

Water Delivered2 (Acre-feet/year)

Consumptive use is water permanently withdrawn from the system and no longer available because it has evaporated, or been consumed by thirsty humans or crops.

Amount of stored water in Ridges Basin Reservoir available for delivery for municipal, industrial, tribal, recreation or fisheries purposes.

Southern Ute Tribe

16,525

33,050

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

16,525

33,050

San Juan Water Commission, NM

10,400

20,800

State of Colorado

5,230

10,460

Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District

2,600

5,200

Navajo Nation

2,340

4,680

780

1,560

54,400

108,800

La Plata Water Conservancy District Subtotal Allowance for evaporation

2,700

TOTAL

57,100

108,800

1 Also referred to as “depletions.” 2 Also referred to as “water supply.”

Photo by Eric Wunrow

• 1992 Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and other environmental organizations sue to halt • 1988 Congress signs the construction. Judge issues Colorado Ute Indian Water a preliminary injunction to Rights Settlement Act, assignstop ALP until the 1980 EIS ing 62,000 acre-feet of water can be updated. in ALP to the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes 1992 • 1972 Colorado Ute tribes sue as settlement for their water 1996 for their federal reserved rights claims on the Animas water rights, dating back to • 1996 Bureau of Reclamation and La Plata rivers. 1868. Their claims potentialreleases a final supplement to 1988 ly involve as much as 93,000 the final EIS, confirming the 1991 acre-feet of water in seven flow recommendations for rivers, including the Animas, • 1991 U.S. Fish and Wildlife endangered fish. Mancos, and La Plata. Service (USFWS) issues a Final Biological Opinion stat1972 1980 ing that in order to protect the endangered Colorado • 1980 Bureau of Reclamation pikeminnow, depletions releases the first Environmental from the Animas River must Impact Statement (EIS) for the be limited to 57,100 acreproject. 1968 feet annually. Feds agree to construct only certain parts • 1968 Congress authorizes ALP of ALP until a 7-year study Project as an amendment to the of the flow requirements 1956 Colorado River Storage for endangered fish can be Project Act. The original projcompleted, and the 1980 EIS ect would have supplied some updated. This opinion allows 191,200 acre-feet annually for certain aspects of project agricultural irrigation, domestic construction to begin. and industrial use. 8

COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


WATER STORAGE: R IDGES B ASIN R ESERVOIR

1997-99

1996-97 • 1996-1997 Lawsuits erupt including the Colorado Ute Tribes/Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District vs. Environmental Protection Agency, alleging interference with the 1988 Indian Water Rights Settlement Act. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund also sues the Bureau of Reclamation for allegedly conducting secret negotiations to get the project built. In a peace offering, Colorado Governor Romer and Lt. Governor Schoettler convene the opposing parties and attempt to find develop consensus as to a potential alterative.

Amount of water available for cyclic or seasonal water deliveries

90,000

Inactive Capacity

Water maintained in reservoir for the environment and recreation

30,000

TOTAL

120,000

• 2002 Construction begins. Archeological studies for cultural resource mitigation begin. Re-routing three gas pipelines crossing the future reservoir site is initiated. Dam excavation starts, as well as construction of the pumping plant alongside the Animas River. These pumps will move water uphill to the reservoir. 2002

• 2004 First million yards of soil excavated from Ridges Basin Dam site.

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• 2003 Construction costs increased from $338 million to $500 million. Project completion date changes from 2000 2009 to 2011. Plans continue • 2000 Bureau of Reclamation for the routing of the Navajo releases another final suppleNation Municipal Pipeline. ment to the final EIS. This identifies the preferred alternative as a 120,000 acre-foot reservoir, with no agricultural irrigation water component and a focus on providing supplies to the Colorado Ute Tribes, as well as non-Indian Colorado and New Mexico interests. • 2000 Congress authorizes construction of the scaled-down project. Non-structural components include $40 million for the tribes to make up for the deficit of water owed to them under the 1988 Act.

Photos (4) by Michael Lewis

• 1997-1999 More than 10 structural and non-structural alternatives to the project are considered, including proposals known as ALP Lite, and ALP Ultra Lite, and the Animas River Citizens’ Coalition Conceptual Alternative.

Active Capacity

The Animas River (left) originates high in the mining country north of Silverton. Development of the Animas-La Plata Project will involve construction of an intake structure and pumping facility (top left) along the Animas River near Durango. From there, river water will be pumped up to Ridges Basin Reservoir which will cover some 1,490 acres (above) when full. Excavation of the dam site is now underway, with more than one million yards of rock and soil already removed.

HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

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Dry Wells in La Plata County Naturally limited water resources, drought and growth team up to send southern La Plata County on the hunt for new water supplies By Cris Meyer

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ells are going dry in La Plata County. And even though the Animas-La Plata Project currently under construction just outside Durango will be dedicated exclusively to tribal and municipal water use, it will not satisfy all of the county’s demands for potable drinking water. Located in the arid Four Corners region, La Plata County is home to some 47,000 residents. Although still predominately rural with an economy driven by tourism, natural resource extraction and agriculture, the county did not escape the growth boom of the 1990s. County records show that directly east of Durango, in the Bayfield and Ignacio areas, there were some 11,488 new housing starts between 1976 and 2000. Some expect the population to quadruple over the next 30 to 40 years. The recent drought also served to highlight what growth will do to local water demands, and to underline southern La Plata County’s pending crisis in domestic water supply. The signs are there: falling water tables, wells gone dry, and springs pumping at half their normal capacity. S OUTHWEST L A P LATA C OUNTY For residents of the La Plata River Valley west of Durango, drinking water from the Animas-La Plata Project will arrive none too soon. While the final configuration of the ALP project was stripped of agricultural irrigation water that would have transformed the valley’s farm and ranch economy, naturally limited surface water and poor ground water quality have also put a damper on the area’s residential development—at least for now. Currently, about half the families in this sparsely populated area get their drinking water from ground water wells. Others, faced with either poor water quality or dry wells, must haul their water from Durango or from a natural artesian source called Marvel Springs. “Some 180 families are served by 10

Marvel Springs,” relates Brice Lee, president of the La Plata Water Conservancy District. According to Lee, demand for Marvel Springs’ water reflects the severity of the area’s water supply problems, and the spring experienced a dramatic surge in use during the drought of 2002. Eventually, they were required to install a “key” system where families must pay for use, and impose a 1,500-gallon fill-up limit. The search for long-term solutions to the area’s domestic water problems has been an ongoing collaborative effort involving the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District, La Plata County, La Plata Water Conservancy, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Bureau of Reclamation and several New Mexico entities. Recently, these organizations assisted in the formation of the non-profit La Plata West Water Company to identify solutions to the region’s potable water dilemmas. Their solutions have a certain amount of urgency. Water from ALP is still several years away—the reservoir is not even expected to fill for another seven years— and there is no funding in the project to move the water over to the La Plata area. Regardless, the water supply situation in the valley is rapidly degrading. Recent drought has reduced surface irrigation dramatically, so return flows (water not taken up by crops and not returned to ground water or rivers) are not recharging the shallow aquifers like they once did. Even flows at Marvel Springs have dropped by almost half in the last several years. “Because Ridges Basin Reservoir will not even start filling until 2009, we’re looking at interim solutions to supply our current needs,” says Mark Langford, president of La Plata West. “People need water now.” One proposal is to buy one million gallons per month of treated water from the Upper La Plata Water Users Association in Farmington, New Mexico. That water would be delivered to the Colorado-New Mexico state line through a network of distribution pipelines. But before this

could happen, a local delivery system would need to be constructed. La Plata West Water Co. is currently conducting legal and engineering studies to evaluate the feasibility of this alternative. One thing is certain, it won’t come cheap. Pat Greer, a long-time valley resident and “keeper of the well” at Marvel Springs, wonders where the money will come from to construct such a distribution system. “This is such a poor community,” Greer worries. “It may be hard to get it [the distribution system] paid back.” Sharing that concern, the La Plata West Water Co. has stated its intention to seek funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other sources to supplement payments from local users. Yet until these sorts of issues can be resolved, many La Plata Valley residents will continue to haul water, one load at a time, perhaps wondering how their landscape may change when more water for homes—but not farms—arrives in their valley. S OUTHEAST L A P LATA C OUNTY In recent years, drought and naturally limited water resources have combined with a good measure of residential development to threaten the ground water supplies enjoyed by of thousands of homeowners and businesses in southeastern La Plata County. The countryside southeast of Durango is a mixture of tribal, private, state and federal lands. Although towns such Bayfield and Ignacio have their own municipal water systems, the majority of local residents use private wells. Many wells tap the shallow groundwater aquifers that underlie the region—aquifers that rely primarily on recharge from precipitation and agricultural return flows. But changing land use and drought are stressing these limited resources. Severe drought has drastically reduced not only the amount of natural precipitation making its way into the aquifers, but it has

COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


Photo by Michael Lewis

Pat Greer, Marvel Springs’ “keeper of the well” and fifth generation La Plata Valley rancher, helps a local resident fill her tank. Many families have been hauling water from this spring for years, relates Greer, either due to poor water quality or because wells came up dry. Although for legal reasons Marvel Springs water is labeled “non-potable,” residents can use the water as they wish. According to Greer, demands on the well increased dramatically during the drought of 2002.

also reduced the amount of irrigation water applied by local farmers and ranchers. Farmers converting to sprinkler irrigation systems also sharply decrease their returns flows to ground water, a mixed water efficiency blessing. In addition, county records show the number of wells in the area has doubled between 1980 and 2000, indicating the extent of the growth-related strain on the aquifers. Over time, local residents also began to notice their well capacities were changing. Soon, many families could not run their dishwashers and clothes washers on the same day. Lawn sprinklers would slow to a trickle after a few hours. Then the drought year of 2002 really helped drive the message home—their ground water supplies were pumped unsustainably. In the spring of 2003, a group of concerned citizens came together to form the La Plata-Archuleta Water Task Force. Not soon after, they proposed the creation of a new La Plata-Archuleta Water District, charged with providing a reliable source

of adequate quantity and good quality water to the area. “We can’t afford to do business as usual,” says Dick Lunceford, president of the Task Force. “We’re at the point of diminishing returns as more and more residents tap into declining resources.” Their plan is to construct about 370 miles of pipeline along every county road, state and federal highway, as well as one or more water treatment facilities. Primarily funded by property taxes, the proposed system would cost an estimated $65 million. Potential sources of water to supply the system include water stored in Vallecito Reservoir and owned by the Pine River Irrigation District. Pine River would then lease this water to the new district. It is anticipated that the Task Force will be putting their proposal before local voters in upcoming elections. Hopes are high for the district’s success. “Many people have been working on this [district proposal and pipeline system] for a long time,” says Lunceford. “They’re 110 perHEADWATERS – FALL 2004

cent committed to success. We have to do it. If we don’t build this system, it could easily have long-term economic impacts in the region.” ••• Many people consider adequate good quality drinking water a basic human right. How much more precious it seems when the well goes dry and you suddenly have to haul all your water from miles away. It may surprise some to find out that these sorts of concerns are very real to many people right here in southwestern Colorado. But the domestic water supply problems of La Plata County are not unique. Other areas of the state, and the arid West, have similar concerns brewing. Solutions will vary, but in the end, these challenges will no doubt influence our definitions of sustainability, and how we interpret “adequate supplies.” ❑

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The Dolores Project and Water for Everyone By Dan MacArthur

Don Schwindt (above), Dolores Water Conservancy District board president, irrigates alfalfa fields just outside his native Cortez. According to Schwindt, the Dolores Project has been a real boon to the Four Corners’ economy by keeping water in agriculture and opening up new lands for cultivation. Balancing those benefits with municipal, tribal and environmental needs is also important, he concedes. “They’re all equal. You can’t have them competing.”

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bundant snows making Telluride a ski mecca, melt into the headwaters of the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers and begin their westward journey. Yet once these waters reach the lower mesas and rolling hills of the Colorado Plateau, they are quickly in short supply. It is said that in 1776 while blazing a trail from Santa Fe to California, Spanish Fathers Dominguez and Escalante saw promise in this arid region when they camped at what is known today as the Escalante Ruins, a village abandoned by ancestral Puebloan people three miles west of the present-day Town of Dolores. Standing atop this slight divide separating the Dolores and San Juan river basins, it is believed that the two priests were the first to envision the area’s prospects for irrigated agriculture if the waters of the Rio de Nuestra Senora de Dolores, or the River of Our Lady of Sorrows, could be diverted into the Montezuma Valley. Many years after, their vision would take shape in the form of a major transbasin diversion, and later the Dolores Project. In the mid-1880s, private developers wasted no time constructing two transbasin diversions, a tunnel and canal to bring water from the Dolores River into the Montezuma Valley. But by 1920, these private ditch companies were bankrupt and their systems in disrepair. The following year, the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company (MVIC) was formed to continue to operate and maintain the ditches that supply some 33,000 acres of farmland surrounding the Town of Cortez. Transbasin diversion water allowed agriculture to function as the center of the economy in the so-called “Montelores” (Montezuma/Dolores) area. Yet without a place to store the water rushing out of the San Juan mountains in the spring, irrigators often

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COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


Photos by Michael Lewis

ran out of water late in the year, local municipalities had limited water supply options for future growth, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe had no way of providing water to their reservation. On the advice of Congressman Wayne Aspinall, Cortez Bootstraps, the area’s economic development council, formed the Dolores Water Conservancy District in November of 1961. By 1968, the District had successfully obtained federal authorization for the Dolores Project under the Colorado River Storage Project Act. The project—centered on construction of McPhee dam and reservoir—was proposed in part to resolve Indian water right claims, to supplement existing irrigation systems, open new lands to cultivation, provide drinking water, and increase instream flows for fish and wildlife in the lower Dolores River. Project construction started in 1980, and water was delivered to the town of Cortez and the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company six years later. Additional deliveries to 280 nonIndian customers with previously unirrigated lands in what is known as the “full-service” area northwest of Cortez, were fully available by 1996. The Ute Mountain Utes received domestic water from the project in 1990, and took over their full share of agricultural irrigation water in 1999. As the most recently completed feder-

Irrigation of the “full service area” northwest of Cortez (above) did not begin until the late 1980s. Water is delivered to each field through pressurized pipelines. As Colorado’s newest federally-funded irrigation system, the Dolores Project is also one of the most automated and water-use efficient. From a central office near Cortez, with a keystroke, project employees can regulate any of the check gates, pumps, or deliveries in the entire system (top).

D OLORES P ROJECT F ACTS McPhee Reservoir Active Capacity = 229,000 Acre-feet (AF) Agricultural Irrigation: (70%) Full Service Area = 55,400 AF Ute Mountain Ute Farm and Ranch Enterprise = 23,400 AF Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company (Supplemental Service) = 13,900 AF TOTAL = 92,500 AF

HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

Instream Flows for Fish and Wildlife Habitat: (23%) TOTAL = 29, 300 AF Municipal Water: (7%) Dolores District = 5,220 AF Town of Cortez = 2,200 AF Ute Mountain Utes = 1,000 AF Town of Dove Creek = 280 AF TOTAL = 8,700 AF

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ally-funded water storage and development project in Colorado, the Dolores Project is also one of the most efficient. All irrigation water provided to its fullservice area is metered through pressurized pipelines and applied by sprinklers. Individual meters allow irrigators to pay only for what they use—a strong incentive for conservation that breaks the efficiency-defeating attitude, “I paid for it and I’m going to use it.” Without the evaporation and seepage losses associated with open canals, “Our delivery system is as much as 96 percent efficient,” notes Philip Saletta, Dolores Conservancy District general manager. And although it costs considerably more to deliver water by pressurized pipeline than ditch, Saletta says that when coupled with high-efficiency sprinkler irrigation systems, farmers can still come out ahead financially and save water. Still, charged with management of a project that serves sometimes divergent water needs, the district cannot afford to rest on its laurels. According to Don Schwindt, president of the conservancy’s board of directors, one of the district’s main challenges in coming years will be to balance desires to expand irrigated acreage, with desires to allocate more water for fish and wildlife habitat in the lower Dolores River. Long-terms plans have taken shape in what they call the “Water for Everyone Tomorrow Package” or WETPACK. John Porter, former manager of the district for 22 years and still a consultant, said he coined the catchy acronym partly in jest. “You never get enough water for everyone,” Porter acknowledges with a laugh. Unlike many other areas of the state

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and nation, where farmers are selling their water to the highest bidder, Porter says Montezuma irrigators are actually looking for more water to expand their operations. To support this economic development, this fall, the first phase of WETPACK will begin installation of the pipes and pumps necessary to deliver water to approximately 3,000 previously unirrigated acres. To accomplish this, 6,000 acre-feet of water was recently purchased from the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company. It was a popular move. Owners of more than 13,000 acres, Porter notes, expressed interest in the first phase of WETPACK. “That is a phenomenal testament to the success of the Dolores Project and the benefit that transbasin diversion of water means to the economy of the area,” he says. “That’s one of the stories of the Dolores Project that’s so important,” agrees Schwindt, a Stanford-educated farmer who grows alfalfa near his native Cortez. According to Schwindt, this project has kept water in agriculture, opened up new lands for cultivation, and substantially boosted the economy of this remote rural area. But what about the fish? After the first transbasin diversion from the Dolores River more than 100 years ago, few fish survived in what little water the river had left, especially in late summer. “From the time of the first diversion in 1886, the Dolores was a dry, dead river below that diversion during irrigation season,” acknowledges Porter. Yet when cold water was first released from McPhee Dam in the mid-1980s, the Dolores quickly began to develop a reputation as one of the West’s finest tailwater fisheries, featuring good-sized brown, rainbow

and cutthroat trout. However, a decade later, full use of the reservoir and prolonged drought dropped river flows drastically and downstream fisheries declined by more than 50 percent. In 2002-2003, the reservoir was releasing only 14 cubic feet per second at certain critical times of the year—barely a trickle. In an effort to regain the fisheries, initial re-operation of the reservoir allowed for lower winter flows in exchange for larger releases for instream flows in the summer months. But concern continues that additional water is needed to guard against dry years and maintain the health of the ecosystem. To help address this concern, in its second phase WETPACK in looking at the potential to provide an additional 3,300 acre-feet, increasing the amount of water available for fish and wildlife from 29,200 to 36,500 acre-feet. To provide the additional water, a new reservoir call Plateau Creek has been proposed. As part of this planning, the district is also participating in a stakeholder discussion group known as the Dolores Dialog. In Colorado today, the Dolores Project is a high-tech leader in efficient agricultural water deliveries, also incorporating service to local municipalities, fisheries, and the tribes. By making the most efficient and best use if its water, Schwindt is convinced that in future years the conservancy district will continue to be a pioneer in reconciling competing water uses that contribute to both the region’s economy and quality of life. And the results may provide a prototype for how other water storage projects must function in the future. “It’s the first of what the West needs to do in the future,” he insists. ❑

COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


Solutions for a Troubled River

Photos by Michael Lewis

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trategies to improve flows in the lower Dolores River have been under discussion for decades, most ending in acrimony. Yet in 2002, when flows at the Slick Rock gage below McPhee Dam dropped below one cubic foot per second, it became obvious that dialog needed to resume. Collaborating with Dolores Water Conservancy District former general manager Steve Arveschoug (and now former manager John Porter), Chuck Wanner of the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance and members of the newlyformed Dolores River Coalition agreed to sit down and attempt to find solutions to how best to manage the shallow waters of the lower Dolores River. “The goal of the Dialog is to develop consensus as to what is needed to maintain and preserve the river below the dam and restore its natural hydrograph, maintain native fisheries, and provide water for rafting and the cold-water trout fishery—in that order,” says Wanner. Comprised of some two-dozen conservation groups, state agencies, and water user organizations, the dialog has been progressing with the aid of a professional facilitator since the spring of 2003. Options under consideration for better management of the river include re-channeling the river’s course, planting trees for shading and cooling the river, and building more storage so that the fishery has more water without harming present allocations. Although many issues are divisive, one of the main concerns where they do have consensus is that the river below the dam is stressed—and has been ever since water was first removed for a transbasin diversion some 100 years ago. “It’s a good example of the negative impacts of transbasin diversion projects,” says Wanner. “Nobody’s blaming anybody, but from our perspective, in the long haul, the river got shorted.” Concerns related to low flows have been highlighted recently by attention to water quality problems. Declining fish populations—particularly trout—have been attributed to warm water temperatures, algae growth, and sediment increases: all related to a lack of water exacerbated by the recent drought. Tensions recently increased in July when the EPA used its federal authority to override the state’s recommendations,

John Porter, former manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District and CFWE Board member, led one of the first attempts to find agreement on low flow concerns in the Dolores River. Called the DRIP Committee, pressures related to the 2002 drought would ultimately lead to its demise.

Chuck Wanner represents the Dolores River Coalition in the Dolores Dialog process. The coalition includes more than 20 different groups ranging from the locally-based Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, Colorado Environmental Coalition, and other environmental interests.

and placed the Dolores River below the dam on the state’s list of most polluted waters, the 303(d) list, for impairments to aquatic life. Immediately, this placed the Dolores River at the center of Colorado’s ongoing HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

tensions regarding the extensive use of water resources versus the desire to maintain good water quality. In Colorado law, water quality and quantity are independent. Requiring more water in the river to mitigate water quality problems is not allowed. According to Doug Benevento, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, it should stay that way. “If the EPA gets into the business of telling us that more water needs to be put in Colorado streams because of water quality problems, it is going to cost us a lot of money…and we may end up losing a lot of adjudicated water to other states, particularly in dry years,” he remarked at a presentation in late August. Trout Unlimited, one of the main proponents of the listing, doesn’t agree that EPA’s action challenges the state’s water right system, or that it is a backdoor attempt to regulate water quantity. According to TU lawyer Melinda Kassen, this isn’t about water rights, it’s about using the Clean Water Act to restore a seriously degraded stretch of river. “The river is in trouble— that’s the issue here,” contends Kassen. “In an ideal world, we would like more water in the river. But if we can’t have that, we should be trying to figure out how to make these fisheries exist with less.” Placing this segment on the 303(d) list would open up more funding opportunities to accomplish necessary restoration work, such as deepening the river channel. “We have already done this kind of restoration on the Arkansas River below the Pueblo Dam, and on the Rio Blanco,” she asserts. “And it may help provide a solution for the Dolores.” Public comment to the EPA regarding the proposed listing was open until September 20th. A final listing decision based on public comment will be issued sometime in the following months. To what extent the Dolores Dialog takes on this issue remains to be seen. However, what they are committed to is the power and potential for community collaboration to help best manage this shallow river. Consensus and local solutions are key to any new management scenarios that come out of their discussions, concludes Wanner. “Solutions that grow out of the community are the ones that last.” ❑ 15


Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm and Ranch Enterprise

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By Dan MacArthur considered. But soon it became clear that reliable water supplies were the lynch pin to the future success and expansion of the tribe. They needed water not only to supply their homes with clean drinking water, but for industry, commerce, and—if they could prevail—to grow food for their families and the region. It was then, some 30 years ago, that the Utes decided to undertake the formidable challenge of asserting their federal reserved water rights claim. The tribe pressed its claim under the Winters Doctrine, established by a 1908 Supreme Court ruling that the federal government reserved water rights “by implication” on behalf of the tribes dating back to the creation of their reservations. The Ute Mountain Utes’ claim dated back to 1868. As in many federal reserved right cases, the problem arises that the reserved water rights are then senior to those of many nonIndian irrigators. This creates a potentially explosive scenario whereby very senior water rights could potentially be “called out” by the reserved Indian rights. In particular, the Utes challenged the

amount of water being withdrawn from the Mancos River by the federally-funded Jackson Project. The Mancos River is a major tributary flowing southwest from the La Plata Mountains through the Mancos Valley between Cortez and Durango. Jackson Project diversions by non-Indian ranchers, they argued, were drastically depleting river flows through the reservation. Many were convinced if successful in their challenge, the Ute Mountain Utes and other area tribes could dry up almost all non-Indian uses of water in southwestern Colorado. “They certainly had a claim on the Mancos River,” acknowledges John Porter, former manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District for more than two decades. “Everybody conceded they could probably dry up the Mancos Valley.” Finally, it was the federal government that stepped forward to help fulfill its obligation to the tribe. Authorized under the Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1968, the Dolores Project—involving construction of McPhee dam and reservoir—was proposed in part to resolve the Utes’ water claims, and to provide water for non-Indian irrigation, municipalities, and fish and wildlife. Local voters overwhelming approved the repayment contract for the project in 1977, just before it was placed on a White House “hit list” for elimination. One of the only reasons the multi-purpose project eventually survived many contend, was because of the impor-

Photos by Michael Lewis

n old tribal legend holds that a Ute chief once stood in the San Juan Mountains and proclaimed that all lands touched by the water belonged to his people. And although the Utes would never be able reclaim their once vast homeland touched by these waters, many generations later in the 1990s, the Ute Mountain Utes did finally succeed in bringing irrigated agriculture and a clean, reliable source of domestic water to their reservation in southwestern Colorado. That water was a long time coming. The Ute Mountain Utes, also known as the Weeminuche or “people who keep the old ways,” are one of seven individual bands within the Ute Nation. Their reservation covers a total of some 933 square miles primarily in Colorado, with smaller portions in New Mexico and Utah. For more than a century the tribe hauled drinking water by wagon and later by truck from Cortez to Towaoc—the only tribal town—a 30-mile roundtrip. In this desert and cactus landscape, growing crops without irrigation was not even

“I’m very positive about the Farm and Ranch Enterprise,” says Ernest House, former tribal chairman. To its credit, the tribe won second-highest honors in the nation last year for its Ute Mountain Gold variety of sweet corn. “That tells me we’re doing something right,” says House.

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COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION


tance of the Indian water rights issue, and the federal government’s need to fulfill its obligation to the tribes. Dolores Project construction started in 1980 and the first water was delivered to Cortez and surrounding areas some six years later. But the Utes still had to wait. In fact, it was not until 1990 that treated drinking water reached the reservation through a 20-mile pipeline constructed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It was an emotional experience when the tap was turned and water started flowing, recalls Ernest House Sr., tribal chairman at the time. “It’s a very different feeling when you actually see water come out of a faucet,” he says, “It’s a great feeling.” House, who intermittently served as chairman for half his 20 years on the tribal council, says he knows his grandfather, Chief Jack House, also would have been pleased. The last of the traditional chiefs, Jack House is credited with recognizing the importance of regaining the tribe’s water rights and dedicating his energy toward that goal until his death in 1971. But the wait wasn’t over yet. The Utes were still awaiting the water allocated to them for agricultural irrigation. Specifically, they were awaiting 23,200 acre-feet of water promised to irrigate some 7,600 sagebrush acres south of Towaoc. It was 1999 by the time the tribe received its full measure of water delivered through a clay-lined canal extending 41 miles south from McPhee Reservoir. At last, the tribe’s first major agricultural venture could become fully operational. “Everything is irrigated. We couldn’t do it without irrigation,” says Paul Evans, who for a dozen years has served as general manger of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch Enterprise. Divided into farming and ranching operations, the enterprise employs 16 full-time and five seasonal employees. Sales of crops and cattle supplement

“I like the discipline [of irrigating],” says Michael Vicienti (left), who has been irrigating for three years for the farm. “You have to keep facing the same problems again and again.” Paul Evans (right) has been managing the Farm and Ranch Enterprise for more than a dozen years. According to Evans, one of the tribe’s main goals for the enterprise is to provide opportunities for local youth.

the tribe’s revenues from its other natural resources including oil, natural gas, and grazing. The tribe also operates a casino, RV park, truck stop, pottery factory outlet, and tribal park. Most recent figures indicate that the tribe generates about 900 jobs, making the Utes the second-largest employer in the area. Evans says the farm truly is “state-ofthe-art”—although he’s reluctant to use that term because, “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.” The farm features 110 center-pivot sprinkler irrigation systems, ranging in size from 40 to 140 acres, operated by the force of gravity-fed water. It employs the latest in modern technology including geographic positioning satellites, computerized links with fields, radio-controlled irrigation systems and weather stations. All are integrated into a centralized control center at the Farm and Ranch Enterprise headquarters. Evans says the tribal council set two

HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

equally important goals for the Farm and Ranch Enterprise: to be a successful and profitable business, and to provide opportunities for youth. The tribe numbered almost 2,000 members according to 1999 census results, most in their twenties or younger and living in Towaoc on the reservation. Providing meaningful jobs—and careers—for these young Utes has implications for the future success of the tribe that go beyond profits. The intent, according to Evans, is for tribal members to eventually take over the entire enterprise. “They want us to work ourselves out of a job,” he explains. And operations have been successful—including earning the tribe the second-highest honors in the nation last year for its Ute Mountain Gold variety of sweet corn. “I’m very positive about the Farm and Ranch Enterprise,” says former tribal chairman House. “It has been very good and fruitful for the tribe.” ❑

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A Lifetime Project The Late Sam Maynes Fought Ferociously Throughout His Storied Career

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egendary water attorney Sam Maynes absolutely hated to lose, he always was quick to confess to friends and colleagues: something that goes a good distance toward explaining why the Durango lawyer who died in July was so successful during his remarkable and oftentimes controversial 46-year career. Over the course of nearly half a century, Maynes’s foremost and longest fight—one that earned him reputations in various quarters as either a tireless water champion or a stealthy backroom operator—was his battle for the hugely controversial Animas-La Plata Project, the $500 million Bureau of Reclamation venture in southwestern Colorado scheduled for completion in 2011. In the decades following its 1968 authorization by Congress, Animas-La Plata repeatedly stalled and occasionally appeared utterly dead in its tracks, but time after time, Maynes successfully mustered small armies of colleagues in the Four Corners region, Denver, and Washington, D.C. to revive it, revamp it, and move it forward—tenacious efforts that finally culminated when actual construction of the project began in 2002. This was an event Maynes long had dreamed of and one he lived to see, a battle the pugnacious Irish-Italian with a quick smile ultimately won, many observers believe, largely because he fought for it so tenaciously. Frank E. “Sam” Maynes was born in 1933 beside the Animas River in the highmountain town of Silverton, fifty miles north of Durango, where his father labored as a hard-rock miner. In 1949, the Maynes family moved downriver to Durango, where soon he was mucking-out the Silver Dollar Bar—in which his father had become a partner—each morning before classes at Durango High School. Two years later, he was off to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he played football and basketball—rather fiercely by all accounts, in part, no doubt, to make up for his small size—and studied economics. When the

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after-effects of a severe concussion he had suffered during a football practice were enough to keep him out of the Marines, Maynes enrolled instead in the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder. There he met Jacqueline Stahl, who was working toward a teaching degree and who would become his wife and “angel” until her death from complications of multiple sclerosis, a disease she endured throughout much of their 45-year marriage. Except for a year the newlyweds spent in El Paso, Texas, Maynes spent his entire professional career in Durango, where he quickly made something of a name for himself defending an itinerant carnival worker charged with savagely beating a popular young hairdresser. Although townspeople were eager to see the carnie pay severely for his crime, Maynes succeeded in getting the charges against him dropped on a technicality: the district attorney had neglected to list the victim as a witness to the crime. “People around town thought I was terrible,” Maynes often remembered rather proudly, and he was convinced the case helped cement early on his reputation as a lawyer who could find every conceivable loophole to help secure a successful outcome for those he represented. By the late 1960s, Maynes had assured Jacqueline that he would make an effort to practice as little criminal law as possible. Despite the fact that at the time he knew little about water law, he soon acquired an important new client—the Southwestern Water Conservation District. The young lawyer who by now had four children to support proved to be a quick study, and beginning in 1965, he dove deep into the world of water law in ways that astounded his colleagues. In 1965, the only thing Maynes knew about water, joked his longtime friend and colleague Fred Kroeger—who has served on the board of the conservation district since Maynes became its counsel—was that water was essential for the taking of showers, for swimming, and mixing with bourbon. Yet there was

COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR WATER EDUCATION

Photo by Mark Piscotty/Rocky Mountain News

By Russell Martin


HEADWATERS – FALL 2004

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“Sam was one of the handful of ‘deans’ of water law and water politics…He was a small-town practitioner with a statewide and national reputation.”

—Colorado State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs

something about the arcane world of absolute decrees, direct-flow rights, and prior appropriation that quickly fascinated him. “With water in this part of the world,” he explained, “it became clear to me that there was an awful lot to lose and an awful lot to gain.” On his first trips to Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress in support of the proposed Animas-La Plata Project on behalf of the Southwestern Water Conservation District—Maynes renewed acquaintances with Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Leonard Burch, a former high school basketball opponent. Each man had been a talented and aggressive athlete in his youth; each encountered something substantial and very likable in the other, and before long they formed a fraternal bond that endured for the rest of their lives. Burch pressed the tribal council to name Maynes its general counsel, and it did so in 1968, the same year that Congress authorized the Animas-La Plata and a series of other massive water storage projects throughout the West. As it was then proposed, the ALP would deliver municipal water to communities in both Colorado and New Mexico, as well as agricultural irrigation water to the region’s non-Indian farmers. About a third of the project’s total water supply was slated go to two Ute tribes—the Southern Utes and the neighboring Ute Mountain Utes. But Maynes soon began work to secure even more water for the tribes—water rights they claimed the federal government granted them back in the nineteenth century. It was Maynes’ innovative and determined water advocacy on behalf of Colorado’s two Ute tribes that, in the end, made him both deeply revered and sometimes reviled in the Four Corners region and beyond. And it was far from surprising—to his friends and detractors alike—that Maynes ultimately found a way to serve both his Native American and water-district clients at the same time. The Animas-La Plata’s first substantial set-backs came in 1977 when the Carter administration suspended its con20

struction along with a number of other Western water projects whose estimated cost-benefit ratios appeared to make them poor public-works investments. Yet by the end of the 1980s, ALP still survived on the drawing board, in largest part due to Maynes’s legal and lobbying efforts, together with his insistence that construction of the ALP could lead to the settlement of the Utes’ water rights claims. Maynes shrewdly proposed that the two Ute tribes would agree to end their ominous federal lawsuit—one filed by Maynes himself and which, if successful could have claimed much of southwestern Colorado’s water—if local interests and the federal government would agree to allocate to the two tribes the lion’s share of the water in the Animas-La Plata Project. With the steadfast support of Ben Nighthorse Campbell, then a U.S. Representative from Colorado’s Third Congressional District, Maynes led the ultimately successful battle that resulted in the passage of the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 1988, officially incorporating settlement of the tribes’ longstanding water rights claims into construction of the Animas-La Plata project. Although throughout the 1990s the project remained stalled by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion claiming its construction would endanger the Colorado pikeminnow—as well as a series of suits filed by the Sierra Club, the Durango-based Taxpayers for the Animas River and Citizens Progressive Alliance citing its environmental and economic costs—the project remained stubbornly alive. And Maynes himself began to joke that the acronym ALP increasingly seemed to stand for “A Lifetime Project.” “The Animas-La Plata never would have reached the construction phase without Sam—and without his partnership and deep friendship with Leonard Burch,” said Lynn Herkenhoff, administrative assistant for the Southwestern Water Conservation District. “He knew all the players, and he knew how to play with them all.” “Quite simply,” agreed Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, whom Maynes had

helped mentor early in his career, “Sam was one of the handful of ‘deans’ of water law and water politics…He was a smalltown practitioner with a statewide and national reputation.” Sixteen months before his death from cancer, construction of a much scaleddown Animas-La Plata project finally commenced. The project no longer included any water for agricultural irrigation and was a fraction of its originally proposed size, but Maynes relished the triumph nonetheless. “My dad liked to say that he was a lousy loser, but a damn-good winner,” his son Sam W. Maynes, now a partner in his father’s firm, remembered. “He was a fighter and he fought for the Utes and for Animas-La Plata with everything he had. He saw the beginning of its construction as a huge victory. For himself; for everyone he cared about.” For nearly forty years, Maynes devoted virtually all his professional time to the water districts and tribes he represented, and although he created bitter opponents along the way, he amassed legions of devoted friends as well—people who, in remembering him, speak foremost about his robust sense of humor, his wonderful storytelling skills, his deep dedication to his family, to his particular part of the world, and to his clients. “My dad was the most generous person I’ve ever known,” his son affirmed. “I never knew anyone more persuasive, or anyone who made friends more easily.” The future of southwestern Colorado and of the people of Southern and Ute Mountain Ute tribes have been dramatically shaped by this miner’s son who skills and determination never to lose made him legendary from Durango to Washington, D.C. Remembered by many as one of those larger-than-life characters who come along only rarely, he was the kind of person who, in retrospect, seemed destined to cut a wide and consequential swath through the decades given to him. “I can’t imagine the world without Sam Maynes,” Herkenhoff offered on the day her dear friend’s full life came to a close. ❑

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Dolores River canyon. Photo by Eric Wunrow

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Profile for Water Education Colorado

Headwaters Fall 2004: San Juan and Dolores  

Each year, Headwaters selects one river basin to explore in depth, giving readers insight not only into the area's major river systems, but...

Headwaters Fall 2004: San Juan and Dolores  

Each year, Headwaters selects one river basin to explore in depth, giving readers insight not only into the area's major river systems, but...

Profile for cfwe