Photos: Lake Nighthorse aerials, May 2023

This page in our free multimedia library features aerial photos of Lake Nighthorse, near Durango, Colorado.

The 1,500-acre reservoir, which filled for the first time in 2011, was created by the construction of Ridges Basin Dam and can hold 123,541 acre-feet at maximum capacity. It was built primarily to fulfill a water rights settlement for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Southern Ute Indian Tribe, but it also serves as a popular boating, fishing and recreation area in southwest Colorado.

Constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Nighthorse is part of the Animas-La Plata Project, a controversial effort that was first authorized in 1968 but fought by environmental groups. The initial project was blocked by the Carter administration in 1978, which saw its economics as dubious, but a scaled-back version was eventually incorporated into the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 1988. Amendments to that act in 2000 cleared the way for construction, which began in 2002.

The reservoir is supplied by the Animas River, a tributary of the San Juan River and part of the Colorado River Basin. Water from the Animas is pumped 550 feet uphill to supply Lake Nighthorse, which is an off-channel reservoir.

The lake is named for Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who represented Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate from 1987 to 2005.

DateMay 26, 2023
LocationLake Nighthorse, Colorado (map)
CreditMitch Tobin/The Water Desk with aerial support by LightHawk
RightsFree to reuse under Creative Commons license.

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