Lake Nighthorse likely will open for recreation in April

San Juan Water Commission hears updates on Lake Nighthorse, grants temporary allocation to Upper La Plata Water Users Association

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Lake Nighthorse near Durango, Colo., is likely to be opened for recreational use in April.
  • Paddle craft are expected to be permitted on the lake starting April 1.
  • The Upper La Plata Water Users Association was given a 10-year allocation of 90 acre-feet of water.


FARMINGTON — The city of Durango, Colo., likely will open Lake Nighthorse for recreation starting in April, according to a presentation to the San Juan Water Commission today here.

The water commission, which represents water users in San Juan County, owns a portion of the water rights from the Animas-La Plata Project. Water from the project is stored in Lake Nighthorse, located near Durango.

The Animas-La Plata Project was authorized by Congress in 1968 as a way to divert and store water. It was later incorporated into the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act. The Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes receive about two-thirds of the water from the project. The Navajo Nation, the San Juan Water Commission and the La Plata Water Conservancy District also have rights to the water.

Durango is in the process of annexing parts of Lake Nighthorse and its surroundings. That will allow the city's police to patrol the reservoir.

San Juan Water Commission Chairman John Beckstead, left, and Commissioner Jay Burnham talk before the beginning of the San Juan Water Commission meeting Wednesday in Farmington.


Starting April 1, the lake will likely open to paddle crafts, including kayaks, canoes, float tubes and paddle boards. Sailboats and motorized boats will be allowed from May 15 through Nov. 15. The lake will be closed for the winter from Nov. 16 through March 31.

There will be a $5 day pass for vehicles or $2 for people who walk or bike to the reservoir. Annual passes will be available for $50 for the first vehicle and $25 for subsequent vehicles. There are also $20 annual passes for pedestrians and bicycles.

In other news, the San Juan Water Commission gave the Upper La Plata Water Users Association a 10-year allocation of 90 acre-feet of water. That will help the small water users association meet the demands of the community of La Plata.

Since 2013, the water users association has been diverting 40 acre-feet of water more than it is allotted each year. That could lead to trouble with the Office of the State Engineer. The temporary allocation from the San Juan Water Commission will bring the association back into compliance.

The water association is allowed to divert a little more than 135 acre-feet of water. Since 2013, it has diverted an average of 174 acre-feet each year.

The commission unanimously approved the additional allocation, although Commissioner Jay Burnham, who represents Farmington, said the city has some concerns about the process for temporary allocation of water.

"There is a need, and it is temporary," Burnham said while explaining his vote in favor of the allocation.

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