Western Slope Roundup: The rise and fall of water

A trip around the Western Slope reveals that water creates problems and solves them, too.

Durango gets a lake without a view

Imagine a nice, new little lake south of Durango where one could go camping, horseback riding, fishing and boating. Imagine sleeping under the starry skies above and hearing distant coyote calls. Imagine soaking in the high-desert scenery. Well, keep imagining because this recreation area ain’t happening soon.

The reservoir, Lake Nighthorse — which will provide water for the city of Durango, parts of New Mexico, several Ute tribes and the Navajo Nation —  is part of the long-awaited Animas-La Plata Project. An estimated $26 million is needed to build a boat ramp and adjacent 100-acre recreational area — too bad, because the feds designated only $3 million to the project.

Colorado State Parks said, "No, thanks," and now the city of Durango is thinking along the same lines. The Bureau of Reclamation owns the property.

Without funding, Lake Nighthorse might have to be renamed Lake Nohorse.

Irrigation ditches light up Delta energy resources

Microhydropower sounds like a new way of brewing beer, right?

Nope, microhydropower is generating energy like Hoover Dam, only on a small scale – a very itsy-bitsy small scale like irrigation ditches. As water flows downstream, mini-hydroelectric systems could possibly generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity per station. That’s good enough for a light bulb or two per rancher.

Since Delta County happens to have 1,600 ditches, the Delta Conservation District is considering looking looking into microhydropower systems as a source of renewable energy. Elevation is on the district’s side — the water source comes from Grand Mesa at 10,000 feet, dropping 5,000 feet to the Delta County floor.

Yep, give a Westerner a little water, and he’ll figure out how to grow crops, raise a family and generate electricity.

Don’t swim with the fishes in Steamboat Springs

Even if you had a life jacket, wet suit, helmet, fins and a good insurance policy, the Yampa River is flowing too fast to go tubing safely. Local sporting goods store owners are telling visitors to go kayaking or rafting, but leave the tubes at home because of fast and cold river water conditions.

Although there is no life jacket law, “anybody going down the river at without a life jacket is just testing Darwin’s law of the survival of the fittest," a local sportsman told the Steamboat Pilot. “It’s really dangerous.”

That advice is good on any river or creek this year in Colorado.

Water bills, construction costs soak Pagosa Springs

You’re a little mom-and-pop restaurant in Pagosa Springs, and one day the mailman delivers the town’s announcement about a new commercial water rate structure. OK, that’s the price of growth, you say, but your bill comes to $80,000 – now that’s a lot of hamburgers.

Well, the water rate restructuring didn’t get a lot of praise from any commercial owners, so the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board revised its original revisions to the water rates. Now that $80,000 bill has been revamped to $5,000.

That may be good for commercial property owners, but bad for Pagosa Springs, because it’s trying to pay for a new reservoir, and construction prices keep going up. The cost for steel pipe alone has increased by 600 percent since the construction estimates were done in 2002.

Water rates down; prices up — looks like Pagosa Springs could use a life jacket, too.