Farmington plans Lake Nighthorse water release

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Kayaks sit on the shore May 14 at Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado.

FARMINGTON — The city of Farmington may ask for 330 acre-feet of water to be released from Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado, to fill Farmington Lake.

The water would be released over three days and the city has tentatively chosen Sept. 17 as the start date, San Juan Water Commission Executive Director Aaron Chavez told commissioners on Wednesday.

Lake Nighthorse stores water for several entities, including the city of Farmington. Construction began on Lake Nighthorse in 2003, and water began flowing into the reservoir in 2009.

The release date could be changed or canceled depending on factors like weather.

Farmington Public Works Director David Sypher said the river levels and lake capacity will influence whether the city asks for a release.

“We don’t want water going by, this precious water going by the city of Farmington,” he said.

The release would be needed to fill Farmington Lake because the city cannot pump enough out of the Animas River. The lake is currently 95 percent full, and Sypher said the city would like to top it off.

If water is released from Lake Nighthorse, Farmington will be required to pay for the water to be pumped back into the reservoir from the Animas River next year. That would cost between $16 and $20 per acre-foot, according to Chavez.

There are several uncertainties about the release, which will be the first time a New Mexico entity asked for water from Lake Nighthorse.

“In my opinion, this release probably should have been done several years back,” said Cy Cooper, who represents Farmington on the water commission. “It’s no different than building a new building or a new project and never really commissioning it.”

The water will be released from the reservoir into Basin Creek, which is dry most of the year. It would run down Basin Creek and into the Animas River.

The city could then pump it out of the Animas River at three diversion points — Farmers Ditch, Penny Lane and Willet Ditch.

Cooper said the release will give Farmington the chance to analyze what will happen when the water reaches the Animas River from Basin Creek, as well as how it will be transported downstream from the state line to Farmington.

The city will also gather data about how much water is lost from the time it leaves Lake Nighthorse until it reaches diversion points.

The city must also work with the Office of the State Engineer to ensure the water released from Lake Nighthorse reaches the diversion points.

Sypher said Farmington estimates it will take four days for the water to reach Farmington from Lake Nighthorse.

"We would be stupid not to gather the data, but we're really wanting to top off our reservoir," Sypher said.

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