The Dolores River contains an impressive diversity of landscapes, from its pristine high-altitude headwaters in the Lizard Head Wilderness to the red sandstone canyons at the confluence with the Colorado River 230 miles downstream. The basin sustains rare riverside habitats, plant communities, and native fish and wildlife. Historically, the area’s economy has been based primarily upon mining and agricultural operations, the latter of which is dependant on significant diversion and delivery of water supplies from the Dolores River. Recently, the decline in traditional industries, coupled with a growing recreation economy, has resulted in significant social, economic, and environmental changes. Basin communities are challenged with finding ways to enhance their long-term economic and cultural well-being while preserving landscape health.
Over the past decade, paddlers have worked with local community groups and non-governmental organizations to preserve the Dolores River watershed and to enhance opportunities for long wilderness-quality river trips; second only to opportunities found on the Grand Canyon. Our members have worked closely with The Nature Conservancy and the San Miguel Watershed Coalition to support the development of Nature Preserves and conservation easements along the river corridor. Our community has volunteered hundreds of hours removing invasive species, advising conservation strategies, and developing recommendations for utilization of McPhee Reservoir releases to support river recreation.
Starting in 2003, American Whitewater participated in the collaborative development of the Dolores River Coalition’s campaign to protect and restore natural attributes of the Dolores River watershed, which included the use of conservation easements, increased instream flows, Wilderness, and Wild and Scenic Rivers protection. Unfortunately, the substantial investment of time and resources required to participate in broad-based coalition activities, presented a barrier to consistent and empowered recreation advocacy and representation.
Our members maintain that the quantity and quality of water necessary to sustain native species and recreation use along the Dolores River must be made available consistently and in perpetuity. Since 2004, private paddlers and commercial outfitters with an interest in future management of the Dolores River have voluntarily participated in the Dolores River Dialogue, a process with similar overarching goals as the Dolores River Coalition’s campaign.
Over the past 2 years, American Whitewater has received several requests for assistance from our affiliate clubs, volunteers, and partner organizations in the Dolores River Basin. Given the current staffing and success of our stewardship program, we are now in a position to meet this need. We have developed a strategy to empower key volunteers with the tools, resources, and leadership needed to build collaborative partnerships and engage in existing efforts to address multiple aspects of river health, including minimum flows for environmental and recreational needs, and reservoir spill utilization.
American Whitewater’s Strategy
Recreational Flow Needs Assessment – In 2010 American Whitewater will launch a progression of studies for the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir, to identify the range of flows that provide acceptable recreation opportunities, and specific paddling experiences. Our stewardship staff will design and conduct an online survey consistent with industry-standard methodologies published by the National Park Service to collect data and information from private paddlers and commercial outfitters that describe recreation opportunities associated with specific flows. Building on literature reviews and survey data, we will identify the range of flows that provide diverse whitewater paddling opportunities below McPhee Dam.
Different paddling opportunities and challenges exist within ranges of flows on a spectrum: too low, minimal acceptable, technical, optimal, high challenge, and too high. Our staff will contract with hydrologists from Bishop Brogden Associates to synthesize our data with existing hydrological data to describe the quantity and frequency of paddling opportunities that currently exist within acceptable, technical, optimal, and high challenge flows. The types of recreational opportunities will be described by the relative number of “usable days” by month, within each flow range or “niche”. On rivers across the nation where paddling has been expressly protected, mitigated, or enhanced it has been done through cooperative efforts to achieve a specific number of days within these niches.
Recreation Flow Guides - Building on the data produced by our Recreational Flow Assessment, we will develop recreational flow guides that prescribe a target number of Usable Days distributed across the full range of flow-based boating experiences for the Dolores River. Our staff will work with the Colorado River Outfitters Association, volunteers, and members to develop monthly targets based on recreational user-preferences and empirical information, that help inform decision-makers of recreational flow needs. Working with our hydrologists, we will categorize flow guides by wet, typical and dry hydrologic conditions based on annual undepleted yield above McPhee Reservoir, and establish flow targets, based on usable days, that vary by each year type (i.e. more high flow opportunities in a wet year). American Whitewater’s Flow Guides will also create evaluative criteria for frequency, timing, and duration of flows for river recreation in each year type.
Achieve consensus on recreational flows and improve reservoir operations - To restore and establish permanent protection for dynamic flows in the Dolores River, we need buy-in and support for recreational flow targets from all major stakeholders in the basin. Paddlers understand the vital ecological roles that dynamic flow regimes play, and we are among the very few stakeholders that relish their power and defend flows for their conservation and social values. In-channel flows produce variable environmental conditions and recreational opportunities, and it is critical to establish consensus on how immediate and longterm effects on river conditions define biophysical habitats, and recreational experiences. In 2010, American Whitewater will work with The Nature Conservancy, the Dolores River Coalition, and the Dolores Project Biological Committee, to identify opportunities to defend or enhance environmental flow needs with recreational prescriptions. We will work to build greater support and understanding of river recreation and recreational water needs from local water users, the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Southwest Water Conservation District and the Bureau of Reclamation. We will also engage our volunteers, affiliate clubs, commercial outfitters and outdoor retailers in building support for recreational flow needs within multiple local decision-making processes including:
In addition, we are working with local chambers, County commissioners, elected officials, and congressional staff to raise awareness of the flow-recreation relationship, and leverage public support to integrate recreational needs into better spill management.
Cortez, Colorado - Last week, American Whitewater met with local water managers, fisheries biologists, an other interests in Dolores River water, to start negotiating releases from McPhee Dam - like we do every spring. This year, things are looking very good for the Dolores...
American Whitewater has launched it's survey of Recreational Flow Preferrences for the Dolores River.
We have developed this survey so individuals can help American Whitewater decide what the future of the Dolores River and its tributaries will look like.
Your honest participation in this study will help American Whitewater develop new spill management proposals and instream flow guidelines that provide reliable and predictable boating opportunities into the future.
American Whitewater and various stakeholders have formed a Working Group in the Lower Dolores River Valley to update the 1990 US Bureau of Land Management’s Lower Dolores River Management Plan. In December 2008, the Working Group launched a year-long process to develop and evaluate alternatives to Wild and Scenic River designation for the Dolores below McPhee Dam.
Federal Land Managers Improve Boater Access for Dolores River - CO
February 14, 2012
AW Intervenes in Proposed Hydropower Project in Dolores River basin
February 17, 2012
AW Announces New Dolores River Program Staff!
April 8, 2011
AW Announces New Staff Position in Colorado!
February 7, 2011
Support Flow Restoration on the Dolores River - Take Action!
September 30, 2010
Last Call for Dolores River Flow Study Participation (CO)
August 31, 2010
Dolores River Flow Study (CO)
July 28, 2010
Dolores River (CO) flows
May 31, 2011
AW Grows it's Dolores River Campaign (CO)
January 3, 2010
Federal Judge Halts Uranium Leases in Dolores River Basin
October 20, 2011
Dolores River Flows awarded permanant Protection!
September 17, 2015
AW to rehabiliate low-head dam on Dolores River - Colorado
February 6, 2017
Releases to Lower Dolores River certain in 2017.
February 17, 2017
Releases To Lower Dolores River Still Certain for 2017
March 7, 2017
Dolores River Releases - Final March Update
March 27, 2017
Update: Dolores River Flows Steady at 1200cfs this week.
April 3, 2017
Last Call! Dolores River Boater Survey - 2017
June 30, 2017
Dolores River - The Early April Update
April 6, 2017
Dolores River Update - April 27th
April 27, 2017
Dolores River 2018 Outlook - March Update
March 20, 2018
Court Approves Permanent Flow Protection for Dolores River
April 10, 2018
The Purpose of the 1990 Dolores River Corridor Management Plan is to establish management objectives and actions which provide appropriate recreation opportunities and sustain the diverse biotic communities within the river corridor for Ten years.