DALE RODEBAUGH/Durango Herald
DALE RODEBAUGH/Durango Herald
REDMESA – It seemed anyone who was or is someone in the production, distribution or consumption of water in Southwest Colorado for the last 60 years gathered Tuesday at a spot on Long Hollow.
The occasion was the groundbreaking for the Long Hollow Reservoir dam, the key component in an effort to store water for Colorado ranchers and help satisfy the state’s La Plata River obligation to New Mexico.
Brice Lee, president of the La Plata Water Conservancy District, which is building the reservoir, was the master of ceremonies.
“We thought the project would never happen,” Lee said.
Earth-moving machines were in the area in 1940, but with the outbreak of World War II, the equipment went away, Lee said.
Long Hollow Reservoir, which has a capacity of 5,400 acre-feet and will average 2,400 acre-feet, will be fed by Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw east of Colorado Highway 140 and about five miles north of the New Mexico line.
An acre-foot of water will cover a football field to a depth of 1 foot.
“It’s not a 100 percent answer, but it will give Colorado ranchers seven to 10 more irrigation days and help satisfy our compact with New Mexico,” Lee said.
According to a 1922 agreement, New Mexico is due one-half of the water in the La Plata River as measured at Hesperus. But a skimpy flow to begin with, a porous river channel and thirsty riparian vegetation often require cutting off Colorado irrigators in order to meet contract stipulations.
State Rep. J. Paul Brown, who recalled living as a child near the New Mexico line and helping his parents read the gauge on the river, said his parents sold the property because of the unreliable water supply.
“This project should have been done years ago,” Brown said.
Long Hollow Reservoir is not dependent on the La Plata River.
Manuel Heart, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, said the project has taken a long time to become reality.
“A shared vision has brought us to where we are today,” Heart said. “Water is life for everyone.”
Fred Kroeger, 93, who went to Washington in 1948 to lobby for water-project money, was among the crowd of about 100.
Jim Isgar, a member of the first La Plata Water Conservancy District board and later a state senator, recalled the effort to jump start the Long Hollow project after the irrigation-water component of the Animas-La Plata Project was removed.
Little had been done before because it was assumed that A-LP water was a sure thing, Isgar said.
“Disappointed wasn’t the word,” Isgar said. “We were devastated.”
There are no federal funds for Long Hollow.
The project will cost about $22.5 million. The bulk of funding is $15 million set aside by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority for future projects when the A-LP was downsized. The sum is augmented by accrued interest and $3 million from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
Rob Englehart, construction manager for the Weminuche Construction Co., which is building the dam, expects the job to be done within two years.