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FARMINGTON — The San Juan Water Commission approved up to $20,000 for a study looking at the possibility of installing a pipeline between Lake Nighthorse and New Mexico.

The pipeline could supply the water commission's share of water from the Animas-La Plata project — a water storage project that led to the creation of Lake Nighthorse south of Durango, Colo.

Aaron Chavez, the executive director of the San Juan Water Commission, said the study will examine three alternatives — construction of a small-diameter pipe that could supply water in case of emergencies, construction of a larger-diameter pipe that would provide San Juan County with all of its Animas-La Plata water rights or increased raw water storage.

Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said there will always be a lot of questions about the possibility of a pipeline.

"Nineteen-thousand or $20,000 is a small amount to pay to answer some of the questions," he said.

He said the study could help the commission determine if a pipeline is feasible.

"It may be a good idea, but it may cost so much that we can't afford it," Dunlap said.

Dunlap also advocated for making the results of the study available to the public.

Commissioner Eric Strahl, who represents Bloomfield, compared the study to a slice of pie.

"If I take a pie and divide it into four slices, this is like the first slice," he said.

Strahl said the other slices would include environmental and political issues surrounding a pipeline, tying the local water systems together, and the amount of money available for the project.

In other business, the commission heard a presentation from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission about the Colorado River Basin System Conservation Pilot Program, which aims to combat the dropping water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The two reservoirs are experiencing declining levels in light of a 15-year drought in the Colorado River Basin, which includes San Juan County, according to the presentation.

Kristin Green, a representative of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, said hydropower generated at Lake Powell funds the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program. The program focuses on recovering populations of endangered fish.

Green warned that a loss of money from hydropower could impact the fish populations in the San Juan River basin.

The water conservation pilot program began in 2014 and has had several rounds of applications for project funding. The final round of project applications opened at the beginning of October. The application deadline is Nov. 30.

Of the 35 projects approved, only two have been from New Mexico. One of the two projects was a municipal efficiency improvements project, and the other involved fallowing — or taking agricultural land out of production.

Dunlap cautioned about taking agricultural land out of production to conserve water.

"If you take all the agriculture out of a community, then you kill the community," he said.

Green said the majority of the approved projects have been fallowing projects and are temporary.

"We're not looking to buy and dry," she said.

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

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