Conflicts about water in Southwest Colorado seem to be the norm. So when the many different interests get together, not only to talk, but to actually come up with potential win-win solutions, it is important to take notice.
For many years, a group of varied interests have been meeting to discuss the management of water flows on the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir. Under the rubric of the Dolores River Dialogue, farmers, conservationists, towns and the fishing and boating communities have worked in the background. Recently, there have been two significant steps forward in the efforts to meet the many, seemingly conflicting, interests.
The core issues that are being wrestled with are how to meet the needs of the towns, farms and industry that use water from the Dolores River, while at the same time, maintain the river ecosystem below the dam for native fish, the angler and boating communities, and the local businesses that are supported by these uses of the river.
One point of contention has been what the native fish species need to survive. Last year, agreement was reached that brought in three neutral and agreed-upon scientists to study those needs. This A Way Forward process is currently under way. By working together, local interests may prevent federal intervention (such as through the Endangered Species Act) from mandating solutions that are not collaborative.
A common understanding of the science and the issues is one thing. Coming up with real solutions is altogether more difficult. Yet a new option has developed. The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which supplies water to a large area around Cortez and Dolores, is now considering leasing water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to increase flows downstream of McPhee on a short-term, trial basis.
The lease would be paid for by private interests, conservation organizations and other nongovernmental sources. It would supply up to 6,000 acre feet of water in three out of 10 years, to be released from McPhee. The water would come from Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. water held in Groundhog Reservoir, above Dolores. The company is currently asking its stockholders whether to go forward with the lease.
There are a lot of steps that need to be taken, regulations followed and agreements made before this proposal becomes reality. Yet even at this early stage, it is important to give kudos to the many people who have worked quietly for so long to try and arrive at workable answers. The Dolores River Dialogues purpose statement sums up the approach:
The (dialogue) is a coalition of diverse interests, whose purpose is to explore management opportunities, build support for and take action to improve the ecological conditions downstream of McPhee Reservoir while honoring water rights, protecting agricultural and municipal water supplies, and the continued enjoyment of rafting and fishing.
It is in everyones interest that this experiment moves forward.
firstname.lastname@example.org Dan Randolph is interim director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.