Fri May 25th, 2018
Jeremy Wade Shockley
The Southern Ute Drum
Dignitaries from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, City of Durango and Bureau of Reclamation gathered at the edge of Lake Nighthorse for a dedication ceremony, Monday, May 14. The reservoir made history with yet another milestone once it opened for public recreation— beginning April 1 of 2018.
“I would like to remind everyone here today that Lake Nighthorse was made possible as a result of the settlement of [Ute] water rights,” Southern Ute Vice Chairman Cheryl Frost emphasized in her opening remarks. “The Tribe asks that the City of Durango be stewards to this land, the waters — please don’t forget that our Ute water rights were settled with this lake.”
The primary purpose of the Animas La Plata Project is settlement of Colorado Ute Indian water rights and to provide them and other entities with a reliable municipal and industrial water supply. “Although Lake Nighthorse is now open for recreation in certain areas, recreation will never take precedence over Tribal water rights,” said Russ Howard, General Manager Animas La-Plata Project. “We believe recreation can exist in harmony with the primary purpose.”
Ute mountain Ute Chairman, Herold Cuthair acknowledged the past leadership who was instrumental in bringing this project to fruition, and those who fought hard for the Ute people. “The water is sacred, the lands we stand on are sacred — we don’t take that for granted,” Cuthair said. “Water is life.”
“Having recreation at Lake Nighthorse will never reduce or forfeit in any way, the water available per the Tribe’s settlement,” Howard said. “Protecting water quality and water rights will always be the first priority of the ALP.”
The Bureau of Reclamation owns approximately 5,500 acres of land that surround and include Lake Nighthorse. In order to provide management and law enforcement for recreation, the City of Durango annexed 2,000 acres, 1,500 of those acres are the water surface of the reservoir. “The land and reservoir will always be owned and managed by the Federal Government,” emphasized Howard.
“To protect cultural resources in the area, recreation is only allowed in developed areas and 25 feet above the high-water level around the reservoir, Howard explained. The land around Lake Nighthorse that is off limits to recreation have been posted with “no trespass” signs and all visitors receive a brochure with rules for recreating at the lake. Destruction or removal of cultural resources will be prosecuted.
A traditional Ute blessing was given by Southern Ute elder, Alden Naranjo prior to the dedication ceremony.