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Head of Animas-La Plata Construction Panel Replaced After Cost Overruns

Tue December 09, 2003 - National Edition

DENVER (AP) The chairman of a panel overseeing the Animas-La Plata Project has been replaced after cost overruns raised the estimated price of the water storage facility by nearly 50 percent, to $500 million.

Pat Schumacher, a Bureau of Reclamation employee in Durango, was removed as chairman and replaced by Rich Ehat, the project’s construction engineer, bureau Commissioner John Keys said Dec. 4.

Keys refused to say whether Schumacher was replaced because of cost overruns on the project, which will provide water to Indian tribes and to businesses and farms in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.

The change was made "so that there will not be surprises as there appear to have been in the past," he said. "We’re working mightily on coordination and communication."

Keys would not say whether Schumacher would have any role in the project, calling that a personnel issue. Schumacher did not immediately return telephone messages left at his office and home.

The original cost estimate for Animas-La Plata was $338 million.

The project will include a 120,000-acre-ft. (48,600 ha) reservoir south of Durango, a pumping plant to lift water from the Animas River into the reservoir and a pipeline to deliver some of the water to New Mexico.

It was designed to settle century-old water rights disputes with the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes. Those tribes will get some of the water.

Construction began in November 2002 and is projected to take seven years.

Congress has asked for a report on the new cost estimates and construction schedule, and Keys said congressional hearings on the overruns are possible.

The new costs haven’t been allocated to the project beneficiaries, but one, the San Juan Water Commission of Farmington, NM, has said it cannot afford a bigger share.

The new costs have not been allocated to the project’s beneficiaries, but water commission executive director Randy Kirkpatrick said the commission cannot afford it.

"We will run out of money before this project is over, "he said.

Water commissioner Jim Dunlap said it’s time to go to the state for funding and suggested meetings with lawmakers to educate them about San Juan County’s water needs before the 2004 legislative session begins in January.