Thirty-two years after Congress first authorized it, Colorado's controversial Animas-La Plata water project still awaits federal funding. But recent events indicate its latest incarnation is alive and kicking (HCN, 11/11/96: Cease-fire called on the Animas-La Plata front). In late October, the Animas- La Plata bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben Campbell, R-Colo., passed the Senate; congressional leaders say the bill could become a rider on spending legislation when Congress resumes Dec. 5.
The legislation would divert the Animas River to a reservoir west of Durango, Colo., to provide water for several local water districts, the Navajo Nation and two Ute Indian tribes. The $344 million project would include $40 million for the Utes to buy additional water rights guaranteed under a settlement with the federal government in 1988.
Both the Clinton administration and Campbell told lawmakers that the federal government had an obligation to the Utes to pass the dam bill.
"From our perspective, it was the moral thing to do," says Campbell spokesman James Doyle, noting that the tribes withheld their right to sue this year because legislation was progressing in Congress.
Critics say Campbell is really concerned about getting more water for Anglos. Just before his bill passed the Senate, Campbell changed language so that three-fourths of the $40 million Ute water fund would have to be spent through joint IndianÐnon-Indian decisions. He also set aside 10 percent of the project's water for the state of Colorado.
Sage Remington of the Southern Ute Grassroots Organization believes that under Campbell's bill, money originally set aside for the Ute water fund could be used to pipe water to non-Indians. "We're concerned about who's going to benefit from the project," says Remington.