Whitewater release announced for the Lower Dolores — The Cortez Journal

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiga):

Reservoir managers have announced a 10-day spill at an approximate rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second. However the plan is to begin the release the first weekend of June instead of over Memorial Day as forecasted last week.

“There will be a spill, and by pushing it forward we’re setting up the boaters for a longer season with improved rafting flows,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Warmer weather beyond the current five-day forecast could accelerate the start of the spill by a few days.

McPhee will fill and provide full farmer allocations, with an estimated left-over water for rafting.

Cooler, stormy weather and significant snowpack holding in the mountains forced managers to adjust the timing of the spill until the first weekend of June.

Reservoir managers are waiting on a second peak runoff from remaining snowpack.

Preston said the decision for the delay is to avoid the possibility two small spills and their associated ramp-up and ramp-down water needs. For safety, spills are gradually increased 200 cfs at a time, then reversed at the end of the controlled spill.

Releasing rafting flows for Memorial Day weekend was not seen as ideal for boaters because managers would have to stop it to allow the reservoir to fill. Then a second spill would likely be required to avoid overfilling the reservoir as the second peak finishes coming down.

“Delaying for one release saves ramping water to extend the season,” Preston said.

The benefits of a single combined spill of rafting flows allows for longer trips and less down-river congestion of boaters.

The district worked closely with the Dolores River Boating Advocates on the early June release decision.

“There has been definite improvement in communication between the reservoir managers and the boating community,” said DRBA board member Wade Hanson. “DWCD and the Bureau of Reclamation have been on the ball with timely public notice about a release.”

Boaters should be aware of some new changes on the Lower Dolores River.

The usual private land available for a public take-out/put-in at Slickrock is closed.

However, another landowner is negotiating with the DRBA to open public access point on land just downstream of the bridge at Slick Rock near the old store.

Farther down river, the BLM’s Big Gypsum Valley river access remains open.

Boaters should be especially alert this season on the Lower Dolores because it has not been floated for many years.

A large boulder fall has been reported in Ponderosa Gorge upstream of the Dove Creek pump house at mile 17, and debris flows and log jams are a real possibility.

Also expect campsites throughout the 100-mile section to Bedrock to be overgrown.

“It’s exciting to get on the Lower Dolores after all these years,” said Hanson said. “We will be taking a lot of pictures and GPS coordinates of the campsites to inform the public.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Whitewater seekers might get crack at Dolores River – The Durango Herald

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Durango Herald (Sue McMillin):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District announced on its website on Monday that recent heavy precipitation, including what’s in the forecast for this week, would likely fill McPhee Reservoir and allow for a boating release. If it happens, it would be the first since 2011.

The water district said that the precipitation combined with a cool, slow start to irrigation season has left the reservoir just 12 feet below full.

“A boating release will likely cover the Memorial Day weekend and last 5-10 days at 1,000 +/- CFS (cubic feet per second),” the website says.

The district says it will continue to keep boaters updated through the week.

The Dolores River was dammed in the late 1980s, which created McPhee Reservoir to ensure domestic water supply for Cortez and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and irrigation for more than 70,000 acres of otherwise arid land.

For the latest on the reservoir levels, visit http://www.doloreswater.com/releases.htm.

Dolores water district unveils $8 million in upgrades — The Cortez Journal

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

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Five automated, high-tech pumping stations do the heavy lifting of pulling water from canals and pushing it through pipes to farms. Another pump system at the Great Cut Dike pulls water from McPhee Reservoir into the Dove Creek Canal and onto the pumping stations.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have teamed up for $8 million worth of upgrades for the 20-year-old pumping stations.

The four-year plan includes upgrading the electronic communication control system, or SCADA, which operates irrigation deliveries from a main control room.

So far, three out of six pumping plants have been overhauled: Fairview, Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon. Next on the list are Dove Creek, Cahone, the Great Cut Dike and the SCADA system. Final upgrades will begin after irrigation seasons and be completed over the next two years.

Water officials and engineers touted the upgrades during a public tour Thursday at the Pleasant View pump station. At Ruin Canyon, two pumps were rebuilt, and two variable-speed electric motors were replaced. The electronic drive systems were also replaced.

The same upgrade occurred at the Ruin Canyon pump station, with a total cost for both upgrades of $1.25 million.

“They are more efficient, run cooler and require less maintenance,” said DWCD engineer Lloyd Johnson. “They will last another 20 to 25 years.”

The variable speed pumps adjust to irrigation demand. As the pressure fluctuates, the electronic drive system directs the pumps to adjust and keep the pressure steady. The drive system automatically turns on other static pumps as demand requires.

“We’re here to meet demand of the farmer,” said engineer Ken Curtis. “They pay high dollar for volume when they want it, and that is why we have a big crew of electricians and mechanics to ensure it is all working.”

The Bureau of Reclamation built the dams and reservoirs and pays to update them, said Brent Rhees, BOR’s regional director for the Upper Colorado River region.

He explained that a portion of power revenues generated from Glen Canyon dam and other BOR hydro-electric plants are set aside to pay for project upgrades like the one at the Dolores Project.

“These upgrades are satisfying to see because they keep us grounded in our mission to deliver water,” Rheese said. “The BOR has transitioned to resource management of existing projects.”

DWCD chipped in $1 million toward the project.

Forum explores new potential use of Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A documentary screening about the Dolores River was followed by a lively forum about the issue of low flows below McPhee Dam.

“River of Sorrows” was commissioned by the Dolores River Boating Advocates to highlight the plight of the Lower Dolores River.

The new film, which is for sale on the DRBA website for $10, had several showings April 30 at the Sunflower Theatre.

A panel answered questions from a moderator and from the audience. The panel included Josh Munson of the DRBA; Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District; Eric White of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch; Mike Japhet, a retired aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and Amber Clark, of the Dolores River Dialogue.

What are the major challenges facing the Dolores River and what are the solutions for addressing those challenges?

Munson said the challenge is for people to see there are beneficial uses to Dolores River water other than just farming, such as for fishery health and boating. Changing the water rights system to allow individuals to sell or lease their water allocation so it stays in the river is one solution.

“Other uses helps to diversify the economy,” he said.

Preston said a major challenge is managing the reservoir in drought conditions. He said the goal is maximizing efficiencies in order to improve carryover in the reservoir year to year.

“High storage lifts all boats, including for recreation,” he said.

White said the film missed the compromises the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has made regarding water rights.

“Our allocation has dropped,” he said. “The tribe has fought for our water rights for a long time.”

Japhet said low flows below the dam are threatening three native fish: the flannelhead sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“They have been declining precipitously,” he said.

Japhet called for more flexibility in how water reserved for fish and wildlife is managed out of McPhee. For example, 850 acre-feet diverted to the Simon Draw wetlands could be used to augment low flows on the Lower Dolores to help fish.

Clark said the big picture solution need to be collaborative and local, “or somebody from outside will find a solution for us.”

The group revealed the difficulty in finding a compromise that improves the downstream fishery and recreation boating but does not threaten the local agricultural economy.

“Use if or lose it water doctrine is a waste of water resources for farmers and conservationists,” Munson said. “The system does not allow for an individual to lease their water” for instream purposes.

Preston pointed out that in the last eight years, there has been four years where there was a release from the dam. The last one was in 2011, and this year a spill is uncertain.

“We are four for four. When we have excess water we release for boating and the fishery,” he said.
Japhet said the “elephant in the room” is if one of the three native fish species is petitioned for listing on the endangered species list.

“It would cause the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a very close look at what is going on with the water and fish resource,” he said. “The best solution is to be proactive and work something out locally to avoid a federal mandate telling us what to do.”

An audience member asked if the river itself has a right to water. Preston said the state instream flow program designates minimum flows for the river, including a 900 cfs below the confluence with the San Miguel. Below the dam the instream flow designation is 78 cfs.

“The river has a right to water, the fact that it was once wild should stay in people’s minds,” Munson replied. “The place itself has a beneficial use for fish, birds, otters. It’s recreation provides a way to make a living.”

Betty Ann Kohlner expressed concerns about McPhee water being used for hydraulic fracturing used for drilling natural gas.

Preston said about 4,000 acre-feet is available in McPhee for municipal and industrial purposes, including for fracking. But, he said, There has been limited use of the water for that purpose.

“If you can lease water to frack, why can’t water be leased for recreation and fish needs downstream from willing owners?” responded one man. “There is a contradiction in how we apply our understanding of how we should use water.”

Don Schwindt, of the DWCD board, pointed out that the Dolores River is part of the Colorado River compact that divides the state’s river water with several downstream states.

“Two thirds of the state’s water is required to leave by compact, and as it leaves it is available in the streams,” he said. “That two-thirds is more dominate than agricultural use.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

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.

    anasaziheritagecenter

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

    montezumavalleygreghobbslaplatas

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

    southplatterivergreghobbs

    Into the high country’s lift off.

    frontrangemarch2016greghobbs

    Over the Sangres winging

    sangredecritos032016greghobbs

    Over the circles of San Luis Valley harvesting

    sanluisvalley032016greghobbs

    Up the Rio Grande into its headwaters

    riogranderiver032016greghobbs

    West for the San Juans!

    sanjuans032016greghobbs

    Riding the billows

    sanjuanswingtip032016greghobbs

    Of Southwestern’s embrace

    southwesternbasingmapgreghobbs

    The fellowship of shared communities

    southwesternwater5th032016greghobbs

    The River runs through.

    animasriverrunsthroughgreghobbs

    Students of the land

    southwesternwater75th032016greghobbs

    Gather to honor

    johnportersouthwesterwater75th032016greghobbs

    The heritage of so many

    southwesterwater75th032016greghobbs

    Who came before these Young

    southwestern75thgreghobbs

    Who wear the beads of service

    southwesternwater75th032016greghobbs

    Keeping faith with the Ute

    lakenighthorse032016greghobbs

    And Navajo neighbors

    navajoneighborsgreghobbs

    In the leavening

    image062

    Of Lake Nighthorse and Durango

    lakenighthorsedurango032016greghobbs

    “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.

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    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