Are You Familiar with the Dolores River? Then you should be a member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates

Recreation, conservation, agriculture and river management

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River Management

Description: month, the long-awaited San Juan National Forest Plan and the Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Resource Management Plan were released. These plans will help guide the management of the Dolores River for the next twenty years and beyond. Local stakeholder efforts will also play into the fate of the Dolores. And while the federal government is “shutdown,” local discussions about Dolores River management continue on subjects as varied as Land Use Codes, the Dolores River Valley Plan, and the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (Implementation Plan). This month, we at DRBA are diving deeper into the topic of native fish in the Lower Dolores River, and how enhanced flows can improve their natural habitat while simultaneously providing recreational opportunities. Re-establishing a flow regime that mimics historical hydrography is a vital step towards restoring the natural balance of the river. Colorado Parks and Wildlife Biologist Jim White joined us on The River Trip on KSJD this month to discuss the status of native fish in the Dolores River. Jim’s research and experience illustrates that mindful management of the river is warranted to save native species and habitat. He also pointed out the need to do this in concert with community water allocation needs. These efforts are symbiotic. As a civilization, we need to support healthy rivers, clean water, and strong natural processes as all of that, in turn, supports us. Native fish flows and whitewater rafting flows are also symbiotic in terms of being mutually beneficial, as discussed in the following feature by DRBA Board Member Sam Carter. Management plans offer prime opportunities to actualize a balance for the cultural ecology of the Dolores River watershed. Read on, and join us in our efforts and enthusiasm in protecting the Dolores River. *Links for italicized plans are at the bottom of the page.

View from the Board

By DRBA Board Member Sam Carter

Tropical Storm Ivo brought just shy of two inches of rain to much of the Dolores River Basin near the end of August. The rain provided a dichotomous situation for the thirsty land of Southwest Colorado. Along with the welcome moisture came a flash flood on the Lower Dolores River in Slickrock Canyon. The Dolores River rose from 11cfs (cubic feet/second) to 400cfs from Ivo’s rains washing out immense amounts of accumulated silt. The silt had built up because, aside from a few minor flash floods, there has not been a sustained strong flush through the Dolores River canyon since the summer of 2011, and these important flushing flows have been irregular since McPhee Dam was developed. When Ivo’s rains came through, this silt became a muddy slurry that was uninhabitable to the fish in the river. Scores of them died, starved of the oxygen they need to survive. Observing all of this was a Cortez Journal reporter and a team of fish biologists from Colorado Parks and Wildlife who were conducting an annual native fish survey.

While the rain was welcome for the thirsty lands of Southwestern Colorado, the unfortunate die-off of the fish was a striking eye-opener concerning the state of the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir. It is understood that the water in the lake provides a great deal of life for Montezuma and Dolores counties through municipal and agricultural uses. Yet, the removal of this water at the current levels is harming the ecosystem of the river itself, as seen through the decline of native fish species. The scientific investigations from the Dolores River Dialogue and the “A Way Forward” native fish studies clearly state that without change to flows, the health of the fish will only further deteriorate.

This recent flash flood event in the Slickrock Canyon highlights the urgency of the situation. The native fish in the Dolores River are not reproducing well, the population is aging, their habitat is being reduced, and they are under predation from non-native fish. Time is of the essence for the survival of these species.

Fortunately, a diverse group of stakeholders has been working to meet the various social and ecological needs of the water of the Dolores River. The native fish research from the A Way Forward project has been translated into a flow management plan that accommodates agricultural, municipal, and recreational uses. Supporting this effort benefits all of us.

Dolores River Boating Advocates (DRBA) supports efforts to improve flows that support native fish. We encourage managing base flow releases out of McPhee dam to provide for significant springtime flushes. Such flushes would enhance eco-system conditions for native fish populations, as well as allow for a whitewater boating season to occur. We believe this can be done while honoring the needs of our municipalities and of agricultural irrigation users. DRBA understands the challenges involved with this pursuit, and is actively working to assist in the process of developing flows that sustain fish health, whitewater opportunities, and municipal and agricultural use. DRBA encourages residents of Montezuma and Dolores counties to attend to the needs of the Dolores River’s health while also respecting the water needs of residents.

Say What?

San Juan National Forest/BLM Tres Rios Field Office Management Plans: Plans that address long-term management of 2.4 acres of public lands. More info can be found at

The River Trip: DRBA’s monthly radio show on KSJD that focuses on stories and issue of the Dolores River. This month’s show with Colorado Parks and Wildlife Biologist Jim White can be heard at:

Implementation Plan: Short for the “Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan” which is the culmination of the native fish research project, “A Way Forward” (see below) and a general assessment of community water needs. The Implementation Plan addresses the dynamics and critical components of improving flows in the lower Dolores River. Draft reports can be found at

A Way Forward: A report conducted by three independent scientists to evaluate the status of native fish in the Lower Dolores River. The Report can be found at:

Cultural Ecology: The study of human adaptations to social and physical environments. Human adaptation refers to both biological and cultural processes that enable a population to survive and reproduce within a given or changing environment.

Our mission: Dolores River Boating Advocates seeks to optimize flows, restore the natural environment, and permanently protect the Dolores River for whitewater boating.


Upcoming Events

River Watch Training, Cedaredge, CO
River Watch is a statewide volunteer water quality-monitoring program operated by the Colorado Watershed Assembly in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. River Watch trains voluntary stewards to monitor water quality and other indicators of watershed health, and utilizes this high quality data to educate citizens and inform decision makers about the condition of Colorado’s waters. Please contact us if you are interested in attending the training and helping us with water quality monitoring on the Dolores River.

Water 101, 8am-5pm, Holiday Inn Express, 2121 East Main Street, Cortez, CO

The Seminar features a line-up of experts, including keynote speaker Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, as well as representatives from federal, state, and local agencies who will provide an understanding of local water law and related issues including: local water sources, water administration, irrigation conservation, environmental concerns and answers to key questions pertaining to the acquisition and use of water, as well as water related real estate transactions.

Montezuma County BOCC Special Meeting on Land Use Codes and the Dolores River Plan, 1:30 PM, Montezuma County Courthouse, 109 Main Street, Cortez


Dolores River Facts

The Dolores River is 230 miles long from the headwaters in the San Juan Mountains near Rico, Colorado to the confluence with the Colorado River at Dewey Bridge near Moab, Utah.

The lower Dolores River is home to five species of native fish including the Flannelmouth sucker, the Bluehead sucker, the Roundtail chub, the Speckled dace and the Mottled sculpin.

McPhee Dam increased the amount of irrigated land from 37,500 acres to 73,600 acres while also increasing water delivery up to two months.

DSCN798338c6e2.1.1.1.jpgWe want to hear from you!
Please send your Dolores River stories for our newsletter to: info, and check out our website ( and Facebook page where you can post your comments, photos, and stories.
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Our mailing address is:Dolores River Boating AdvocatesPO Box 1173

Dolores, CO 81323


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