From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Durango Herald:
A spirited debate before the Colorado Water Conservation Board in Denver in January featured local officials expressing their opinions about a plan to increase flows on the lower Dolores River.
A live Internet broadcast of the hearing presented views for and against appropriating new minimum in-stream flows on a 34-mile section of the river below the confluence of the San Miguel River.
Representatives from the Dolores Water Conservancy District, in Cortez, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, in Durango, attended the meeting and urged the state board to delay the matter. Local officials say new in-stream flows could threaten agricultural users who depend on McPhee Reservoir, and they want more time for negotiations with local federal agencies about newly implemented river regulations.
But they were rebuffed by the state board and state officials who argued the in-stream flows were a good way to protect struggling native fish and avoid intervention by the federal government moving to list them under the Endangered Species Act…
The proposed in-stream flow on the Dolores is for 900 cfs to flow for 61 days in the summer to aid the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub below the San Miguel confluence.
Eleven organizations commented on the proposed in-stream flow, some for and some against.
Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores district, urged the state board to delay its intent to appropriate the new Dolores in-stream flow.
“These ISFs are intertwined with recent federal actions that add up to create considerable uncertainty and risk for the Dolores Project,” he said. “We ask for the delay to straighten out these issues with federal land agencies.”
The in-stream flow proposal comes on top of recent federal action on the Dolores that elevates two additional native fish, the bluehead and flannelmouth suckers, to a category called Outstanding Remarkable Values.
The values are used to categorize special aspects of rivers like the Dolores that are designated “suitable” for National Wild and Scenic River status.
Creating that official high level of protection would require an act of Congress. But reservoir managers oppose even a hint of Wild and Scenic because if ever designated, those rivers come with a federally reserved water right that could force water from McPhee to be released downstream for the benefit of native fish.
State water board director John McClow said that the in-stream flow was a good solution and questioned why it had so much resistance.
“I’m having a difficult time connecting the dots here,” he said. “We have argued to federal agencies that in-stream flows are a better option than suitability. If we declare intent to appropriate, it lets the federal agencies know that we are serious and are going to do this and provide the protection for these fish.”
After the testimony, the state water board voted unanimously to declare its intent for appropriating the proposed in-stream flows on the Lower Dolores River.
However, to give time for stakeholders to negotiate with the Bureau of Land Management about the possibility of dropping Wild and Scenic suitability, the hearing about the matter was delayed until January 2015.
Here’s a guest column about the proposed instream right and the Dolores Project, written by Mike Preston that’s running in the Cortez Journal:
There is a lot going on these days that could affect the Dolores Project and many recent events have received newspaper coverage. This column is intended to put these events into a broader context that will help those who are interested understand what is going on as this story continues to unfold.
Let’s start with the biggest long term risk to Dolores Project water supplies: A listing of any of the three sensitive native fish species on the Dolores River as Threatened and Endangered. This would put the US Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of the Dolores River resulting in a loss of control by everyone else. What is being done? Local partners including water managers, fishery managers, conservation groups, boaters and county commissioners are working together to put together a science based Native Fish Implementation Plan to evaluate opportunities to address the needs of native fish without putting water supplies as risk.
The next level of risk is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a result of additions to the recently released BLM and Forest Service resource management plans which list the two sensitive native fish as Outstandingly Remarkable Values which Implementation Plan monitoring show to be uncommon and rare above the confluence with the San Miguel River. The federal plans also added flow standards that are unachievable below McPhee Reservoir. What is being done? DWCD and Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWWCD) are actively protesting and appealing these plans with the support of the State of Colorado, Colorado Water Congress, local counties and west slope water entities.
There is also a large instream flow proposed on the Dolores River below the San Miguel confluence. Representatives of DWCD and SWWCD recently appeared before the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and asked that the instream flow proceeding be delayed until risks associated with the federal plans are addressed. The CWCB granted a delay until January of 2015 and pledged State of Colorado support in resolving the federal issues described above. The one year delay also gives local water boards the opportunity to negotiate protections to insure that the instream flow will pose no risks to water stored in McPhee and other water rights within the basin.
Given the need to manage these multiple risks, what can be done to create stability and certainty going into the future? There is a Legislative Subcommittee made up of County Commissioners, Water Managers, and Conservation Groups, grazers and OHV users that is crafting legislation that will eliminate the Wild and Scenic River designation from McPhee Dam to Bedrock, protect water rights and Dolores Project allocations, recognize the Native Fish Implementation Plan as the means of taking care of the fish, while protecting water rights, mineral rights, private property rights and access.
Are we going to be able to succeed in all of these activities designed to protect community water supplies? These efforts are grounded in community level cooperation by representatives of the full range of Dolores Project purposes: irrigation, community water providers, boating, the fishery and the health of the downstream environment. If we all stick together, we will find a way to do what’s right by our community. As this story unfolds we will make every effort to keep you informed.