Dolores River update

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From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

During what served as the peak of whitewater season elsewhere in southwestern Colorado, the scenario is indicative of the conundrum that the Rio Dolores — The River of Sorrows — has become. Once one of the longest undammed rivers in the lower 48 states and a perennial candidate for federal Wild and Scenic River designation, the 250-mile Dolores now loses about 40 percent of its water, an average of 100,000 acre-feet each year, to irrigation withdrawals and trans-basin diversions centered on the McPhee Dam and Reservoir built in the mid-1980s. The result is a boon to agriculture and municipal and industrial water users around the city of Cortez, but at significant cost to the recreational and ecological interests the river once supported. Management is a complex issue that involves several federal, state and local agencies, but many believe there’s ample water to share among these often-conflicting interests.

The first step — already begun by the Cortez-based Dolores River Coalition — is raising awareness of the river. “It really is the forgotten river,” said Bureau of Land Management ranger Ryan Mathis from the Montrose field office, one of three BLM offices…

With just more than 50 cfs trickling out of McPhee Reservoir, there’s little reason to make the once popular trip upstream of the San Miguel confluence anymore. The former gold medal trout fishery below the dam long ago had that designation revoked, and water managers from the Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy District rarely release enough water for boaters to navigate the 185 miles of river below the dam, despite a study by Trout Unlimited showing an annual shortage of 3,300 acre-feet in the river (leaving nearly 25,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir unused). Although hope remains for a Memorial Day weekend release, McPhee has yet to spill this year. From 2000-05, it didn’t spill at all…

The Dolores River Coalition is stressing protection of those undeveloped landscapes and increased river flows in order to balance resource management for the full spectrum of human uses and preservation of the ecosystem.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

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