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Public Lands

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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

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Water Education Colorado

Colorado's Newest Water Storage Project is Taking Shape

Animas-La Plata is Colorado's most recent federally-funded water storage project. In fact, ALP's Ridges Basin Dam, now under construction just south of Durango, is the only dam in the nation the Bureau of Reclamation is currently building ‘from the ground up.’

It took more than 30 difficult years to finalize ALP. The complicated timeline and bitter legal fights littering the project's history look remarkably like a maze—with plenty of false endings and wrong turns. A lot was at stake here: endangered fish, Indian tribal water rights, tie-ins to the Colorado River system (one of the most heavily used and politically-charged river basins in the world), local economic development, water quality concerns, and the list goes on.

The resulting scaled-down project began construction in 2002. Devoted primarily to tribal and municipal/industrial water use—with no water for agricultural irrigation—it reflects the divergent needs of the beneficiaries involved and the stakeholders concerned.

Then and Now

In 1968, Congress first authorized ALP under the Colorado River Storage Project Act. Original plans envisioned a massive project that would include multiple reservoirs, miles of canals and laterals, and huge pumping stations. A significant portion of the project was for agricultural irrigation: diverting water from the Animas River (with flows averaging 720,000 acre-feet annually) and moving some of that water to the drier La Plata River Valley to the west (with flows averaging 30,000 acre-feet annually), which is predominated by dry land farming.

The ALP project under construction today includes a 120,000 acre-foot Ridges Basin Reservoir and Ridges Basin Dam, Durango Pumping Plant to lift water from the Animas River through a 2.1-mile conduit up to the reservoir, and development of an almost 29-mile pipeline to supply municipal water to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

Water will be pumped from the Animas River, stored in the reservoir, and released via a series of drop structures back into the river for downstream deliveries to tribal and urban areas around the San Juan Basin in Colorado and New Mexico. Stored water may also be conveyed via pipeline to rural areas west of Durango; however funding for these structures is not part of the project. More than half the water is designated for use by two Colorado Indian tribes, the Ute Mountain Ute, and the Southern Utes. How they will use their water remains to be decided.

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