Animas-La Plata hits a wall in the House

  An attempt last year in the House to halt funding for the Animas-La Plata dam project in southern Colorado failed by a miserable 151-275. This year, a second try slipped by 221-200. What changed the 75 or so Representatives' minds? Election year, says Jeffrey Stier, spokesman for Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who led the successful campaign to cut $10 million for initial construction of the controversial project. "Republicans are increasingly desperate to improve their environmental credentials," Stier says.

Many Eastern and Midwestern Republicans were swayed by debate on July 24 when DeFazio claimed that the $710 million worth of pumps, canals and reservoirs meant porkbarrel spending and environmental degradation. Project proponents countered that construction was essential to satisfy a water treaty with two Ute Indian tribes. But some Indians are celebrating the project's setback. "This doesn't have to do with economic and financial benefits for the tribes," says Southern Ute Councilman Ray Frost.

"It's a feather in our cap, a sign that someone in Washington is finally listening to our concerns that we've been used on a water issue."

The amendment may next go to the Senate where Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., vows to secure funding for the project.

* Heather Abel