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Know the West

Dam project could get a free ride

  A Colorado senator wants to make sure the controversial and long-delayed Animas-La Plata water project begins next year. Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell hopes to attach a rider to an appropriations bill that requires Congress to proceed with dam construction "notwithstanding any other provisions of the law."

The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which has used environmental laws to forestall the project, fears this sufficiency language will "whitewash and approve the Bureau of Reclamation's record of non-compliance" with clean water and other federal laws.

Congress has already approved $10 million for the project in 1996, when an environmental analysis is due. These actions come on the heels of a new Bureau of Reclamation study revealing that the $710 million project will bring in only 36 cents for every dollar spent (HCN, 5/25/95).

Touted as the "last great water project," Animas-La Plata has also been called a Rube Goldberg scheme of pumps and pipes. Its first stage would divert water 500 feet from the Animas River near Durango, Colo., to create a reservoir. A second stage, negotiated in part as a water rights settlement with Colorado Ute tribes, would pump the reservoir water 400 feet uphill to irrigate Indian and non-Indian lands. Additional pumps from the reservoir and the La Plata River would feed nearby towns and coal operations (HCN, 3/23/93).

The Ute water settlement expires on Jan. 1, 2000.

* Heather Abel