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Commission will consider Lake Nighthorse pipeline

The San Juan Water Commission will meet next month to discuss whether to pursue a conceptual design of a pipeline from the Colorado lake to New Mexico entities

Hannah Grover
hgrover@daily-times.com
Lake Nighthorse is pictured on Sunday south of Durango, Colo. The San Juan Water Commission may consider installing a pipeline from the lake to New Mexico entities.

FARMINGTON — San Juan Water Commissioners are considering a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse south of Durango, Colo., to New Mexico entities.

The commission decided today that it will meet in October to discuss whether to pursue a conceptual design of the pipeline.

Aaron Chavez, director of the San Juan Water Commission, highlighted the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 as a reason the county could benefit from a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse.

During a meeting in August about the spill, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said a pipeline to Lake Nighthorse could be used during emergency situations to provide water to downstream communities.

Lake Nighthorse is pictured on Sunday south of Durango, Colo. The San Juan Water Commission may consider installing a pipeline from the lake to New Mexico entities.

The man-made lake, which was completed about seven years ago, stores up to 111,627 acre-feet of water and was at 97 percent capacity at the start of the month, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that manages the lake.

Chavez said that while the lake could provide additional water to San Juan County, there has been no pumping this year from the reservoir — which is fed by the Animas River — due to concerns stemming from the Gold King Mine spill, which released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater containing toxic metals into the river.

Chavez said the original purpose of Lake Nighthorse was to provide communities a reliable source of water during droughts.

Lake Nighthorse is pictured on Sunday south of Durango, Colo. The San Juan Water Commission may consider installing a pipeline from the lake to New Mexico entities.

The possibility of a pipeline also comes with other concerns. Chavez highlighted invasive species, such as quagga mussels, as one of those issues. A recreation plan is currently being developed for Lake Nighthorse, and officials fear boats on the reservoir could introduce quagga mussels to the system. The invasive species could then attach to pipeline infrastructure, leading to clogged water systems.

Chavez said a conceptual design for the pipeline is estimated to cost $10,000 to $15,000, while a more detailed study would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said the pipeline will be expensive to construct.

"We can't just put it in Lake Farmington and call it done," Dunlap said.

He said the pipeline would need "spurs" to all the San Juan County water treatment facilities.

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