Chapter Wilderness Chair
A Bureau of Reclamation water project continues to threaten one of Colorado’s last free-flowing rivers. The long-suffering Animas-LaPlata water project would deplete 57,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Animas River. This is enough water to meet the needs of over 200,000 people, or more than four times the current population of Durango and La Plata County.
Although it is couched as an Indian water project necessary to meet the treaty obligations to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, very little of the water is actually intended for use on the reservations. Responding to criticism that there existed no identifiable need for the project water, the Bureau of Reclamation’s latest Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) concocts a number of far-fetched "non-binding" alternatives.
The Animas-LaPlata project was originally conceived as an agricultural water project. The agricultural water has been eliminated, and the project is now almost entirely intended to provide municipal and industrial water. The only problem is, there’s no rationale use for all this water. The DSEIS suggests non-binding uses for the two Ute tribes’ 39,525 acre-feet water allocation. These include:
• a coal-fired power plant at the New Mexico state line
• a coal mine
• three golf courses and resorts
• a dude ranch
• unspecified municipal uses for Durango and surrounding towns.
In short, the Animas-LaPlata project has become a massive exercise in water speculation, shrouded in the guise of meeting Indian water rights. According to the DSEIS, fully 64% of the project’s water is intended for non-Indian users. What began as a massively subsidized agricultural water project has turned into a massively subsidized municipal water development scheme.
As presently configured, the preferred alternative involves pumping water 500-feet uphill in perpetuity to fill a reservoir in Ridges Basin. The water will then be let out to run back downhill into the river for delivery to New Mexico and other downstream users.
Citizens have proposed a reasonable, cheaper alternative. The Citizens Alternative suggests providing equivalent funds to the two tribes so they can buy land and water on the open market from willing sellers. This serves the twin goals of acquiring real, wet water for the tribes plus allows the Southern Ute tribe to fill in their reservation’s checkerboard land ownership pattern of intermixed private and tribal land.
What You Can Do: Please make comments to the Bureau of Reclamation by April 17, 2000 with the following points. Or simply mail the clip-out form below to Bureau of Reclamation, 815 East Second Ave., Suite 300, Durango, CO 81301 or e-mail ALPDSEISComments@uc.usbr.gov.
Mr. Pat Schumacher
Bureau of Reclamation
I oppose the DSEIS’s preferred alternative for the Animas-LaPlata project which includes a large reservoir in Ridges Basin and pumping plant. Instead, I urge you to adopt Alternative 6, the Animas River Citizen’s Coalition Alternative, for the following reasons:
-- The DSEIS for the Animas-LaPlata Project is woefully inadequate and does not meet the basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act to provide sufficient factual information to allow the public and decision-makers to make an informed decision among alternatives;
-- None of the suggested future uses for A-LP water justifies the enormous cost and environmental damage A-LP will cause the Animas River;
-- The DSEIS mischaracterizes the non-structural alternatives, discounting them because they provide only Indian water and do not subsidize municipal and industrial needs in Durango and other towns;
-- Most (70%) of the Indian water needs identified for A-LP supply power plants and coal mines, with another 16% supplying golf courses and resorts;
-- The proposed Ridges Basin Reservoir would displace up to 800 elk and deer, and threatened endangered native fish species and bald eagles;
-- U.S. and Colorado taxpayers will pay $330 million for the proposed A-LP project, while cheaper and less destructive alternatives meet Indian water rights obligations.
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