Southwestern Water Conservation District 75th Anniversary

The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

From the Water Information Program:

The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD or District) was created by the Colorado General Assembly in 1941, thereby marking the District’s 75th anniversary this year! The SWCD encompasses Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel and parts of Hinsdale, Mineral, and Montrose counties. In a press release issued by SWCD board president John Porter, and recently printed in the Durango Herald, Porter shares some lessons learned in the past 75 years, ones that will be carried through the next 75:

Lesson No. 1: Adaptability is a Necessity

Times have changed since 1941. Colorado statute charges the district with “protecting, conserving, using and developing the water resources of the southwestern basin for the welfare of the district, and safeguarding for Colorado all waters of the basin to which the state is entitled.” Following this mandate, the district worked tirelessly for decades to ensure water supplies would meet growing demand by filing for storage project water rights in almost every major river basin. SWCD lobbied for federal dollars to be spent on project construction in our area. The philosophy was, and continues to be, to plant the seed and help it grow.

This work resulted in the establishment of the Florida Water Conservancy District and Lemon Reservoir; the Pine River Project extension; the Dolores Water Conservancy District and McPhee Reservoir; the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District; Ridges Basin Reservoir; Long Hollow Reservoir; the San Juan Water Conservancy District; and the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.

As population pressure threatens to dry up agriculture, and regulations and constituent values have expanded to include environmental protections and recreational use, the district’s mission has adapted necessarily. When the A-LP Project debate was underway, for example, SWCD was integral in the formation of the San Juan Recovery Program, established to recover endangered fish species populations in the San Juan River in New Mexico downstream of the proposed reservoir. SWCD currently funds a variety of essential work, including stream flow data collection and mercury sampling in local reservoirs. To address mounting concerns regarding future compact curtailment and drought, SWCD supports water supply augmentation through winter cloud seeding and exploring creative solutions like “water banking.”

Lesson No. 2: Be at the Table

Participation at the local, state and federal levels is essential to protecting our resources. That’s why the District is a member of Colorado Water Congress, a state entity focused on water policy.

The District takes positions and engages in debate on water-related bills during the state legislative season. We keep a close eye on federal water management policies, often submitting public comments and working with federal and state partners to ensure continued state control of water rights. The District is supportive of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream flow program to establish minimum stream flows for the environment, and is working to improve the program’s ability to adapt to rural community needs for future development. As for the broader Colorado River system, SWCD participates in dialogue among Upper Basin states through the Upper Colorado River Commission.

At the local level, the district has represented water development interests in the collaborative River Protection Workgroup, which resulted in the Hermosa Creek Watershed Act. SWCD worked with other Roundtable members to ensure our corner of the state was heard in the Colorado Water Plan.

Lesson No. 3: Reinvest Local Tax Dollars Locally

It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that SWCD’s grant program supports water work across the district: domestic supply and irrigation infrastructure improvements, recreational development, habitat rehabilitation, collaborative community processes and water quality studies. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Archuleta, Mineral and Hinsdale counties: Rio Blanco habitat restoration by the San Juan Conservation District, watershed health via the San Juan Mixed Conifer Group.
  • La Plata County: Initial studies for Long Hollow Reservoir, the La Plata West Water Authority’s rural domestic water system.
  • San Juan County: Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies dust-on-snow research, mining reclamation through the Animas River Stakeholders Group.
  • Montezuma and Dolores counties: The Dolores River Dialogue (a collaboration focused on issues below McPhee Dam), irrigation efficiency improvements by the High Desert Conservation District.
  • San Miguel and Montrose counties: The San Miguel Watershed Coalition’s watershed studies and irrigation diversion improvements to allow fish and boater passage, domestic system upgrades for the town of Norwood.
  • Lesson No. 4: Educate the Next Generation of Leaders

    For more than 20 years, the district has spearheaded regional water education by sponsoring an Annual Children’s Water Festival for students across the basin and administering the Water Information Program with contributions from participating entities. SWCD played an instrumental role in creating the statewide Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and continues to sponsor the organization. As generations of water leaders step back, new stewards must step forward to ensure that the Southwest Colorado we know and love continues.

    From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

    “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 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.

    The district was formed in 1941 by the state legislature and is one of four such districts around the state, district Director Bruce Whitehead said. The district covers all of six counties and parts of three others. The district’s directive is to protect and develop all waters in the basin that the state is entitled to, he said.

    District Board President John Porter noted there are nine river systems within the district, and they all flow out of state.

    “Indian water rights cases couldn’t have been solved without storage,” he said. “Without that, non-Indians wouldn’t have much water after July 1” each year, when rivers tend to go on call.

    The district is funded with property taxes. It has a $1.5 million annual budget and over the past 30 years has awarded almost $9 million in grants, Porter said.

    Longtime Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said $50,000 from SWWCD and $25,000 from the Southwest Water Roundtable helped the 18-lot Palo Verde subdivision near Three Springs install a water line to get Durango water when residents’ domestic wells started failing.

    Travis Custer with the High Desert and Mancos Conservation Districts said education efforts on more efficient irrigation methods are part of “the idea that we are responsible for our resources. Water saved on the farm benefits everyone… It’s mitigation rather than emergency response. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of an ag operation.” Instead, it can be an enhancement, he said.

    “We’re looking at ways to replicate efficiencies in the larger area,” Custer said. “We have to work together, agencies with agencies and with producers to build trust. In the West, these situations aren’t going to get any better. No new water will be created.”

    Asked how more efficient irrigation might have consequences with the doctrine of “use it or lose it,” Custer said that doctrine has a lot of gray areas. “We have to look at opportunities to adjust our thought process and legislate to address the current situation. We want to keep land in ag. Legislation that prohibits conservation needs to be addressed,” he said.

    The keynote speakers were water attorney and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs and Bill McDonald, a former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a lead negotiator on the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement and the implementing legislation.

    “Remember your history is lesson 1,” McDonald said. He gave a brief history of water issues in Colorado and called water “the state’s liquid gold.”

    Debates over trans-mountain water diversions started in the 1930s with the Colorado/ Big Thompson water project to bring water to northeastern Colorado. In 1937, a Governor’s Water Defense Association was created to defend against downstream states. In-stream flow rights became an issue in the 1970s.

    Hobbs said about two-thirds of the water that originates in Colorado flows out of state to 18 downstream states. In the 1980s, he and fellow attorney David Robbins won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to keep Ute water rights cases in state rather than federal courts. They also defended the constitutionality of in-stream flow rights.

    “In-stream flow has been our safety valve to show we can preserve the environment in the name of the people,” Hobbs said. “It was a great day when that was upheld.”

    The seminar finished with Peter Butler from the Animas River Stakeholders Group and discussion of toxic mine drainage from above Silverton. SWWCD helped with funding for four stream gauges near Silverton. The one on Cement Creek is how it was determined that the Gold King mine spill last August was 3 million gallons, he said. SWWCD also helped them get in-stream flow rights and has supported “Good Samaritan” legislation, he said and thanked the district for its support over the years.

    The day included a tribute to Fred Kroeger, who was on the SWWCD board for 55 years and served as board president for 33 years. He died last year at age 97. He also served on various other state and local water-related boards and community service groups. He and buddy Sam Maynes Sr. were known for the lame jokes they told at the water seminars as well as for their water project advocacy including A/LP and McPhee on the Dolores.

    “He set the standard by which we behave in the water business,” water engineer Steve Harris said of Kroeger. “Be a diplomat, dignified, a gentleman. Be willing to compromise. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t give up. Be involved.”

    Arbogast added: “You never heard him call anybody a name. In today’s political environment, that would be pretty refreshing, wouldn’t it?”

    Here’s a photo poem from Greg Hobbs. He was one of the keynote speakers at the shindig:

    Southwestern District’s 75th Anniversary

    Dominguez and Escalante peered into this ancestral
    Great Kiva looking for the Colorado River

    Where the Shining Mountains and their waters also lead us on.


    East of the Divide where snowmelt’s stored for so many newer Coloradans


    A slender ribbon, the South Platte, slices through the High Plains


    Into the high country’s lift off.


    Over the Sangres winging


    Over the circles of San Luis Valley harvesting


    Up the Rio Grande into its headwaters


    West for the San Juans!


    Riding the billows


    Of Southwestern’s embrace


    The fellowship of shared communities


    The River runs through.


    Students of the land


    Gather to honor


    The heritage of so many


    Who came before these Young


    Who wear the beads of service


    Keeping faith with the Ute


    And Navajo neighbors


    In the leavening


    Of Lake Nighthorse and Durango


    “In sum the Dolores River is truly a unique river with a special character” — Jimbo Buickerood

    Dolores River Canyon near Paradox
    Dolores River Canyon near Paradox
    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

    The federal Bureau of Land Management announced March 4 that it was soliciting public comment about the possibility of establishing Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, or ACEC, designation in 18 areas in southwest Colorado.

    Conservation groups and local governments — including San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties — weren’t pleased with the news.

    They say the BLM’s announcement was poorly timed and could jeopardize their years-long negotiations for legislation protecting parts of the Dolores River while respecting the concerns of private landowners in the area.

    The BLM contends local groups have known about these ACECs since at least 2007, and that the timing of its announcement was simply coincidental, the result of the unpredictability of the federal bureaucracy.

    Yet members of these groups aren’t so sure.

    “To have the BLM out of the complete blue say suddenly they’re going to impose ACECs on some of the same property we’ve been negotiating over for 6, 7, 8 years…That was really disturbing,” San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes said. “I want to chastise the BLM. This is the third or fourth instance of them making a decision — without notifying people — that has been potentially damaging to their ongoing efforts.”

    San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties, along with the environmental nonprofit San Juan Citizens Alliance, private landowners and other stakeholders, have been working for several years on possible legislation to protect portions of the Dolores River. They say they were getting close to a deal that satisfied, or at least didn’t offend, both sides of the environmentalist/land-user coin, and that the BLM’s announcement could stall that work.

    BLM Tres Rios Field Office Manager Connie Clementson countered that the groups’ disgruntlement with the BLM’s alleged “poor timing” could have something to do with faulty memories: “One of the things that can happen when things take a lot of time is people forget about them.”

    For example, Clementson said, the ACECs were first mentioned in the 2007 draft resource management plan for the region (if not before) and then again in 2013. She said she’s been reminding each of the county commissions of the pending ACEC amendments in quarterly updates for four years. She said she again informed the counties and community groups in early 2015 when she initiated the process to have the ACECs published in the Federal Register.

    “We had about three days’ notice. We were told on a Tuesday that it was going to be in the Federal Register on Friday,” she said. “I guess people felt like it was a surprise because they had forgotten that we had been telling them for a long time this was going to happen.”

    The proposed ACECs deemed relevant and important are Anasazi Culture/Mud Springs, Cement Creek, Cinnamon Pass, Coyote Wash, Disappointment Valley, Dry Creek Basin, Dolores River Canyon (Slick Rock to Bedrock), Grassy Hills, Gypsum Valley, Lake Como, McIntyre Canyon, Mesa Verde Entrance, Muleshoe Bench, Northdale, Silvey’s Pocket, Slick Rock, Snaggletooth and Spring Creek.

    Among all the talk about the intricacies of how to protect the Dolores River, the purpose of preserving parts of the river can get lost.

    “The set of canyons and valleys the river incises and crosses as it meanders in its somewhat-odd northwesterly trajectory are home to a diversity of habitats that spread from riverine otters to gypsum-soil loving plants to towering old growth Ponderosa pine and more,” said Jimbo Buickerood, Lands and Forest Protection Program Manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “In sum the Dolores River is truly a unique river with a special character that charms its human visitors whether they fly fish its headwaters or are challenged by the significant rapids throughout the river corridor, as well as providing critical habitat to an immense array of animal and vegetative species across the amazing 9,000 foot altitudinal drop of its watershed.”

    Some local stakeholders acknowledged they should have been paying more attention to the imminent ACEC announcement.

    “It kind of did (take us by surprise), and it shouldn’t have,” Montezuma County Natural Resources and Public Lands Coordinator James Dietrich said. “The BLM planning process has gone on for so long. When they tell you at the beginning of the process that 11 years later you’re supposed to remember it, everybody has the responsibility to keep up.”

    The local groups have mostly been working on legislation to establish a National Conservation Area, or NCA, along parts of the Dolores. Those negotiations won’t stop, according to Marsha Porter-Norton, who has been facilitating the negotiations.

    “The NCA is by no means going away because of this ACEC proposal,” she said.

    Ernie Williams, a Dolores County commissioner who has been central to the NCA negotiations, agreed that discussions would continue.

    “We’ve been working on this thing for years. We still plan on moving forward, but we don’t know what the fallout (from the BLM’s announcement) is going to be yet,” he said.

    According to Williams and others at the local level, an NCA designation is more flexible than an ACEC because it allows local communities to tailor the designation to their own needs.

    “An NCA crafted locally is a much better fit for the communities. You get some of the nuances figured out that you might not get” with another designation, said Buickerood, of the SJCA. “With a lot of local involvement on this, we can really craft something that works well for local communities.”

    Environmentalists aren’t the only ones involved in the negotiations. Indeed, the talks involve a balancing act between many, occasionally competing interests: local governments, private landowners, ranchers, recreational river users and those who rely on the lands adjacent to the river to make a living.

    Williams, the Dolores County commissioner, said private landowners were already concerned about the prospect of an NCA designation, but that the announcement of possible ACECs has them even more worried, and this hampers his ability to negotiate. Williams and Dietrich, of Montezuma County, pointed out that Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez had once been an ACEC before being designated a national monument, and that private landowners were therefore worried about what new ACEC designations might mean for their grazing, water and property rights: some envision ACECs along the Dolores as a first step toward a national monument.

    “We were working with the landowners within the Dolores River corridor trying to get the best answers for private land, then (the BLM announcement) comes out two weeks later and they felt like they got pressure put on them by the BLM,” Williams said.

    Along with most of his local colleagues across the political spectrum, Williams would like to see the river protected by an NCA crafted by local interests.

    “An NCA is put together with local people, local conservation groups, local landowners, local governments,” Williams said. “A (national monument) is a stroke of a pen out of Washington, D.C.”


    For the time being, NCA negotiations among local groups and leaders will continue in parallel with, yet separate from, the current ACEC comment period. (The original deadline for comments on the ACECs was April 4, but counties asked for, and received, an extension until May 4. Both Dolores and Montezuma counties are currently working on letters opposing the ACEC designations.)

    Film: The River of Sorrow

    I had the pleasure of viewing the new documentary “River of Sorrow” from the Dolores River Boating Associates yesterday at the eTown Hall in Boulder. The Colorado Water Trust hosted the event. River Network President Nicole Silk, CWT Executive Director Amy Beattie, and filmmaker Cody Perry introduced the film by detailing their personal experiences which led them to a life working with water.

    In the film a farmer in Montezuma County detailed the necessity, from her point of view, for McPhee Reservoir. She acknowledged that she understood the motivation of those that want higher releases from the dam for recreation and the environment and the conflict it causes with the irrigators in the Montezuma Valley.

    This is the main message: There are too many straws in the Dolores River, or as one person in the film, says, “Yeah, the Dolores River is very iconic, but it’s really a river no more.”

    One of the highlights was the rare film footage of boatmen and enthusiasts from the heyday of boating in the years leading up to first fill. Even after first fill the boating survived until the diversion structures were built and started delivering water from the Dolores Project to the San Juan Basin.

    The reservoir filled during a wet time and for a while there was a gold medal trout fishery below the dam. Then dryness hit the region (and is still around).

    Now, organizations are attempting to reconcile competing views, learning that water rights are in control, and trying to find recreation and environmental water for the river.

    Here’s a review from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    A new documentary film on the Dolores River is to some degree a lament to a river lost, or at least transformed to a degree that it’s hardly recognizable to people with long memories.

    “River of Sorrows: Inheriting Today’s Dolores River,” … documents the changes wrought on the river first by the construction of the dam at McPhee Reservoir near the town of Dolores in the 1980s, and then by drought.

    While it’s a story about one waterway, it’s one that echoes in river canyons across the West that face challenges similar to the one on the Dolores when it comes to competing demands for scarce water supplies.

    “You could say that the Dolores is the canary in the coal mine,” said filmmaker Cody Perry of Rig to Flip, a film production company based in Steamboat Springs. “You could say that the Dolores is potentially the future of every river in the Colorado River Basin in terms of if we have intentions to further develop every drop.”

    The Dolores originates in the snowfields of the San Juan Mountains, heads southwest to Dolores and then north along the Colorado border to Gateway before crossing into Utah and its endpoint, the Colorado River.

    Perry’s company contracted with the group Dolores River Boating Advocates to tell the river’s story, and particularly describe its life before and after McPhee Reservoir.

    The reservoir project provided an important supply of water to agricultural users, as the film shows. But, except for in the wettest of years, it went far in decimating whitewater rafting on what was coming to be considered one of the nation’s best stretches of whitewater, below the reservoir. The river had been growing in renown for its rapids and pristine, slickrock-studded scenery.

    For the first five years or so after the dam’s construction, the stretch below it did prove to be a prime trout fishery. But then drought hit, flows dropped below the dam to as little as 20 cubic feet per second, the water warmed and many fish died along the stretch of the river above its confluence with the San Miguel River in Montrose County.

    The film quotes Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla about the passions boaters, anglers, farmers and others feel regarding the river, and the fact that each group feels threatened.

    “But in reality everybody owns that river,” Suckla said.

    From the farmers’ perspective, the fear is that they will get less water if more water is released downstream for the fish, he said.

    “All the water is already allocated. There is no extra water that is available to send down the river,” Suckla says.

    “It’s going to be hard to get this fixed,” he adds later.

    The comment succinctly sums up the challenge faced by water managers and the competing interests when it comes to the Dolores, which got its name from the Spanish “El Rio de Nuestra Señora de Dolores,” meaning “The River of Our Lady of Sorrows.”

    For whitewater enthusiasts, the film’s high point also is bittersweet. The filmmakers developed contacts with river guides who dug up film footage from the old days of the Dolores when the rapids sometimes raged, including in 1983, the epic spring runoff year when Lake Powell almost overflowed.

    Immediately after showing this footage, the film cuts to the lower Dolores today below the dam, barely trickling with water. An unnamed voice provides narration.

    “Yeah, the Dolores River is very iconic, but it’s really a river no more. It needs to be seen and supported and it needs to be a river again,” says the voice, which Perry said is that of Andy Hutchinson, a famed Grand Canyon river guide who serves on the board of Dolores River Boating Advocates.

    Perry said the archival footage is both thrilling and a reminder of what’s been lost.

    “There’s generations of kids who have no idea about this river, and we don’t have that piece of whitewater anymore. It’s a cultural loss, and the generations of people who ran it — there’s a massive gap to today’s river runners who have no idea that was down there,” he said.

    He said he’s shown the film to schools, groups of so-called “water buffaloes” and others. He said he was surprised that water managers in particular thought it does a good job of describing the players and issues at hand.


    While the film is sympathetic to boating and environmental interests, he said some more extreme environmentalists wish it was edgier. But he feels the film’s job was to educate more than advocate.

    “Seven of 10 people in Colorado have never heard about this river, let alone the issues that are specific to it yet also common to other rivers,” he said.

    Perry said he’s concerned about the future of agriculture, too. His hope that in the case of the Dolores River, agricultural, recreational and other interests can be willing to show more flexibility in their discussions with each other, and that legal tools can be provided for permanent transfer or long-term leasing of agricultural water for instream flows.

    The various interests “need to stop digging in their heels and we have to start meeting each other halfway,” he said.

    Go see the film then take in the sights of Four Corners and see the country and the Dolores River for yourself.

    Dolores River watershed
    Dolores River watershed

    Dolores River: Southwestern Water files lawsuit over spring minimum flows

    Dolores River watershed
    Dolores River watershed

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    In September, the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to establish minimum in-stream flows up to 900 cubic-feet per second in spring on the Dolores River between the confluence of the San Miguel River and Gateway.

    The new flow standards on the 34-mile stretch are intended to help river health, including three species of native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub.

    Local water boards objected to the new standard, arguing that the flows were too high and could not be met in drought conditions. In addition, there was fear that water stored in the upstream McPhee Reservoir could be used to meet the standard.

    But the CWCB denied their appeal, and the minimum flow plan for the Lower Dolores River was approved. In December, SWCD responded by filing a lawsuit in Colorado’s Division 4 water court in Montrose to try and overturn or modify the flow allocation.

    Their lawsuit claims CWCB’s action on the Lower Dolores River exceeds the ISF’s statutory standard of “minimum stream flows to preserve the natural environment” and that it does not protect “present uses” of the water.

    It further states that the new in-stream flow is inconsistent with CWCB’s statutory responsibility to develop water for beneficial and future use for state residents, and that the new standard is inconsistent with CWCB’s appropriation of an in-stream flow regime on the San Miguel River.

    John Porter, SWCD board president, says it’s time to rethink the in-stream flow program so that some of it is reserved for future growth.

    “A small amount, 1 to 2 percent of average in-stream flows, should be held by the CWCB for future domestic uses,” he said during a meeting with the Montezuma County commissioners. “We want to get people talking about the idea.”

    The so-called “carve out” concept suggests tapping in-stream flow allocations to provide a more accessible water supply for unforeseen small development projects.

    In defending the new Dolores River in-stream flows, CWCB was joined in the lawsuit by Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and San Juan Citizen’s Alliance…

    The new in-stream flows for Lower Dolores River begin below the San Miguel confluence are as follows: minimum flows of 200 cfs from March 16 to April 14; 900 cfs from April 15 to June 14; 400 cfs from June 15 to July 15; 200 cfs from July 16 to Aug. 14; and 100 cfs from Aug. 15 to March 15.

    Montezuma County: Four States Agricultural Forum recap

    La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain
    La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

    From The Durango Herald (Jacob Klopfenstein):

    The Yellow Jacket project’s lead researcher, Abdel Berrada, spoke last week at the Four States Agricultural Expo at Montezuma County Fairgrounds.

    The research center received almost $250,000 from a grant to fund the study, which examines how cover crops can improve soil quality for dryland farmers.

    Although Berrada said he and other researchers have a long way to go before they find out what works in the region, he told a crowd of about 25 people that cover crops can increase organic matter in the soil, suppress weeds and prevent erosion.

    “Cover crops make sense,” Berrada said. “We’re looking at factors to see what works best for the area.”

    As part of the study, five farmers in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah are administering plots of cover crops such as yellow clover, winter peas and others.

    After three years, researchers hope to quantify the effects of cover crops on ground moisture, soil health and weed control, Berrada said. Another goal of the project is to determine which cover crops are most profitable. Those goals will help determine if cover crops can enhance the sustainability of farming in Southwest Colorado and southeast Utah.

    Colorado State University Dolores County Extension director Gus Westerman said researchers will collect a second round of data in the next year. They’ll use data collected at the end of the three years to compare the effects of cover crops in the region with results from other areas, he said.

    Westerman said more people in the industry are becoming aware of water issues.

    But the study runs for only three years, and Westerman said that’s a short time in terms of soil science. He said the project hopes to extend the grant to get more time for study.

    CSU Extension West Region Specialist John Rizza said there hasn’t been much research on cover crops in the region to date. Few studies have been done to examine which cover crops are most successful for dryland farmers, he said.

    Rizza and Westerman said the level of interest in cover crops is increasing regionally. More farmers are participating and it’s now easier to show people how they work, Rizza said.

    “We’re getting good momentum,” he said.

    Forecast calls for rafting on Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

    Dolores River near Bedrock
    Dolores River near Bedrock

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    McPhee Reservoir managers announced Friday that the forecast calls for a whitewater release below McPhee Dam.

    “The forecast shows a 22-day whitewater season,” said Bureau of Reclamation engineer Vern Harrell. “But it is a 50-50 probability, so it is not guaranteed it will materialize.”

    Based on this year’s impressive snowpack in the mountains, runoff forecasts show the reservoir will fill, and there will be 68,000 acre-feet available for a spill into the lower Dolores River.

    Here is the plan if the snowpack holds:

    On May 17, flows below the dam would be increased to 500 cubic feet per second. It would ramp up to 900 on May 18, then 1,300 cfs on May 19, and 1,500 cfs on May 20.

    From May 21-25, the plan is to max out the flows at 2,000 cfs, then they will drop slightly to 1,800 cfs from May 26 to June 1 for the Memorial Day weekend.

    On June 2 flows will be reduced to 1,400, cfs, drop 1,000 cfs on June 3, to 800 cfs on June 4 and 5, to 600 cfs on June 6 and 7, to 400 cfs for June 8 and 9, then 200 cfs for June 10 and 11.

    Minimal rafting flows is 600-800 cfs, and for kayaks it is 300-400 cfs. Tubing could be done at 200 cfs.The boating community is excited, but cautious, said Josh Munson, vice president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates…

    There has not been a whitewater release below the dam since 2011.

    The surge of water into the lower canyon will benefit the natural environment, Munson said, and create an economic boon to the area as recreational boaters descend to the various launch sites.

    CDPHE tags 105 miles of the Lower Dolores River as impaired

    Dolores River watershed
    Dolores River watershed

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    Colorado has listed 105 miles of the Dolores River between Slick Rock and the Utah state line as an impaired waterway because of high water temperature from chronic low flows.

    The Water Quality Control Commission of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment ruled on the river’s impairment status during a hearing in December.

    The section on the Lower Dolores River is “considered impaired because the temperature was greater than standards adopted to protect aquatic life,” said Meghan Trubee, media relations official with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. “We’re mostly concerned about the fish and macro invertebrates.”


    “Because the stream is listed as impaired, the division is responsible for developing a plan to address the temperature impairment known as total maximum daily load (TMDL),” Trubee said. “The segment will remain on the 303(d) list until a TMDL is developed and approved by the EPA.”

    A year’s worth of temperature data from a water-quality station at Slick Rock showed the river went above the daily maximum temperature standard 10 times – five in September 2013 and five in June 2014.
    The separate readings went above daily maximum standard for March to November of 28.6 Celsius, or 83 degrees Fahrenheit.

    “Warmer water has less ability to hold dissolved oxygen, which fish need,” said Jim White, a fish biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The other reason is that higher base flows in the summer would create more habitat for growing invertebrates, the food relied on by native fish.”

    The impaired section is below McPhee dam and reservoir and has not had a recreational whitewater release since 2011.

    Water allocated for fish habitat, about 31,796 acre-feet, is held in McPhee reservoir and released throughout every year. In the winter, flows below the dam are 20-30 cfs. During summer, they reach 60-80 cfs if there is no whitewater release.

    A series of low snowpack years have left the reservoir below full and only able to supply irrigation demands. A whitewater release occurs when there is more runoff than the reservoir can hold.

    The Dolores Water Conservancy objected to the lower Dolores impairment listing, but wasn’t successful