April 7, 2016--Collaboration gets things done on water issues (Pine River Times)

"The water is our life blood that feeds all of us," Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Clement Frost told participants in the 34th annual Water Seminar on April 1 in Durango. The seminar is organized by the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD). This year's event celebrated the district's 75th anniversary. "The Creator gave us that water," Frost said, "made it available to all of us. The tribe had to believe we were put here to be stewards of the water and the land. The tribe didn't own the land. The people were part of the land. The land, water, resources, all belong to the man above. ... We will continue to work with other organizations to protect the water." The Animas/ La Plata Project and the now completed Lake Nighthorse were mentioned by Frost and other speakers as examples of choosing collaboration over litigation. They settle Ute water rights claims going back to 1868, senior to any other rights. "The tribes and water users have a relationship that's quite unique" versus other places where entities end up in court fights that can last for decades, explained Christine Arbogast with the lobbying firm of Kogovsek and Associates. "Here the tribes and non-Indian community decided in the early 1980s to negotiate and not litigate." The negotiations started in 1984 and concluded in 1986, she said, but they still needed congressional approval, which came in 1988 with bipartisan support from the Colorado delegation. But an irrigation water delivery system to the Dry Side had to be eliminated as part of that. Arbogast called that a painful compromise, "that we all looked at the stewardship of water together and the preciousness of water together." Frost said, "I have the most admiration for the ranchers who gave up their rights to irrigation water. They understood it was necessary for Animas/ La Plata to move ahead." He commended the help of SWWCD "in helping us get things done. We all march together to take care of a problem, and not march apart to continue a problem." Speakers through the day cited the water district's financial and other help in their various missions. To view the full article visit the Pine River Times.