Aztec commissioners express concerns about water storage amid Lake Nighthorse discussion

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Aztec's Reservoir 3, also known as Tiger Pond, is one of two functioning reservoirs in Aztec right now. Reservoir 1 is out of commission pending repairs.

AZTEC — If water is released from Lake Nighthorse this spring, the City of Aztec will likely divert some of it into its reservoirs as local governments attempt to gather data on the feasibility of harvesting water from that Colorado reservoir.

The City Commission discussed the possibility during a work session on Feb. 9 that can be viewed on YouTube. While the work session was called to discuss the Lake Nighthorse release, the commission spent a portion of the time talking about water storage. One of the city’s three reservoirs remains out of operation and needs repairs before it can be used again. This work will cost an estimated $2.1 million, which Aztec does not currently have.

Previous coverage:Water Commission may request Lake Nighthorse water release if 'stars align'

The water system operators have been keeping reservoir two and three full. Public Works Director and City Engineer Stephen Morse said they are also trying to keep the city’s water storage tanks, which contain treated water, full.

“There’s a benefit to testing (Lake Nighthorse), but we would have to basically not fill our reservoirs before the test so we could see how much we could pump out,” Morse said.

Lake Nighthorse, located southwest of Durango, Colo., stores water as part of the Animas-La Plata Project.

Morse said the city would have to lower the levels of water in their reservoirs to make sure they could pump more water in.

The discussion about the reservoirs prompted questions about the rehab of reservoir one.

Morse said the project is the top project on the city’s infrastructure capital improvement plan.

Related:Aztec hopes to send North Main Avenue project to bid in spring or summer

While the project was submitted for capital outlay funding, there is no guarantee that the city will receive the funds.

The reservoir has been out of use for more than two years. The city found a leak in the reservoir after cleaning it out and subsequently took it out of use pending repairs.

“To me that’s not satisfactory,” said Commissioner Mike Padilla Sr. “Not in a drought season and everything that we’re in. We need to really seriously take a look at that and see what we can do.”

Kayaks sit on the shore, Monday, May 14, 2018 at Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado. The San Juan Water Commission could request a release from Lake Nighthorse if the conditions are correct. If that happens, the City of Aztec may divert some of that water.

This work session came almost a week after the San Juan Water Commission voted in favor of allowing Executive Director Aaron Chavez to request a release from Lake Nighthorse if the conditions are correct. This came upon request of the City of Farmington. The San Juan Water Commission consists of representatives from the City of Farmington, the City of Aztec, the City of Bloomfield, San Juan County and rural water users.

Aztec City Commissioner Mark Lewis serves as Aztec’s representative on the water commission. Following last week’s meeting, Chavez approached him to see if Aztec would be interested in diverting some of the water released.

The goal of the release is to gather baseline data, including information about water loss, during a time of year when the water levels are low and the irrigation ditches are closed. This data could help the San Juan Water Commission in the future if the Animas River goes dry and the commission needs to request water that is stored in Lake Nighthorse.

Without a pipeline, the only way to get water from Lake Nighthorse to Farmington is by releasing it into the Animas River, pictured Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Riverside Park in Aztec.

“It’s never been done before,” said Aztec Interim Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director Steven Saavedra. “It’s been discussed and been proposed.”

He said the release would not cost the city, but Aztec would need to provide details about where it would divert the water and where the water would be stored.

“Considering where we’re at right now with the drought, it might be a good time to get a baseline so that if and when we have to call for water during extreme drought they’ll know the difference between how much water came to Aztec and how much water came to Farmington with the assumption that nobody is pulling water out of the Animas for irrigation,” Saavedra said.

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Morse supported diverting some of the water from the possible Lake Nighthorse release to gather data for the City of Aztec.

“If Farmington’s calling for water, we’re going to be hurting as well,” he said. “Probably worse because they have more storage than we do.”

Commissioner Austin Randall said water utilities along the Animas River in New Mexico should all be involved in the test to gather as much data as possible rather than Farmington being the only entity diverting. He said that if drought conditions led to requests for water from Lake Nighthorse, everyone will be wanting to divert some of the water released.

In addition to the City of Aztec, there are mutual domestic water users associations that use water from the Animas River. This includes North Star Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association, which serves Cedar Hill.

Randall was very supportive of the test run.

“If they can get it done this year, that would be great, because there’s a lot of unknowns,” he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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