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Know the West

A-LP looms liter

  In a move that's either desperate or practical, proponents of southwestern Colorado's Animas-La Plata water project applied "tough love" to their aging proposal and unveiled a leaner alternative in early July.

The reservoir and pumping project that was supposed to provide water for irrigators and cities in Colorado and New Mexico is also key to a 1988 agreement that settles claims to the region's water by the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribes. But for three decades it has been bogged down.

Last fall, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer called project backers and critics to the negotiating table (HCN, 11/11/96). After months of talks, participants decided that the two sides should produce dueling alternatives to the $744 million-dollar project.

"A-LP Lite" shrinks the project's water diversion from the Animas River by a third and cuts the cost to an estimated $300 million dollars.

At most, A-LP Lite would take 57,100 acre-feet a year from the Animas River, the maximum allowed under a 1991 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opinion aimed at protecting endangered fish. Two-thirds of the water would belong to the Ute tribes instead of one-third as in the earlier version, but A-LP Lite would still protect existing non-Indian irrigation from senior Ute claims. And, according to the Durango Herald, irrigators hope that if this smaller project is built, they may still manage to build the full project in the future.

Now the ball is in the opponents' court. Taxpayer and environmental groups immediately criticized A-LP Lite - officially the Animas-La Plata Reconciliation Plan - saying it's still too expensive, still threatens elk winter range, fishing and rafting, and still uses taxpayer money to subsidize municipal and suburban water users.

Talks resume in August. Meanwhile, a Senate appropriations subcommittee added $6 million to a spending bill to keep the dam and diversion project alive through 1998. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has already spent $62 million on A-LP.

* Becky Rumsey