In any discussion of the future of the Dolores River Valley Plan, some facts need to be stipulated:
First, the upper Dolores River watershed comprises the water supply for residential and agricultural users throughout most of the county. Almost all of that water comes down the Dolores River into McPhee Reservoir. If the quality of the water supply were compromised, the economy of the county would be decimated. The Dolores Water Conservancy District has warned the Montezuma County Commissioners that any modifications they propose to the DRVP must not put the water supply at risk.
Second, the Dolores River Valley Plan has worked as intended to safeguard the water supply. Setbacks and limits on development along the river corridor are mechanisms for doing that.
Third, the recent and protracted economic downturn has hampered analysis of the effect on real estate values of transferable development rights, the mechanism in the DRVP that controls density of development in the valley.
Fourth, while all restrictions come at a cost, that does not automatically negate the possibility of positive value. Regulation of any kind will be unpopular with a certain subset of the population; fair enough, but that is a separate issue from whether or not the plan works.
With all that said, periodic evaluation of the DRVP, or any land-use system, is a good idea. Going into that analysis with the idea that this one needs to be scrapped, or at least gutted, is not.
It is important to note that the Montezuma County Planning Commission unanimously supports continuing the plan as it is. That is the group that is supposed to boil down residents’ opinions, apply information about how various tools have worked in other areas and make well-considered recommendations to the county commissioners.
The commissioners, in turn, are supposed to take those recommendations seriously. Unfortunately, some seem to have their minds made up already.
Protecting the rights of private landowners is a weighty responsibility, but the strategic value of the river and the reservoir must be taken into account. Can the river valley support more development? Maybe. Is that a given? Absolutely not, and there can be no doubt that not all development carries the same risks to downstream landowners and water users.
A 100-foot setback is hardly an onerous requirement, nor is an engineered septic system. After all, any value of properties along the river have is absolutely dependent upon the river being free of sewage and floating debris.
Montezuma County is past the point at which land-use decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, too often favoring those who complain the loudest or who have the most to gain by whittling away at others’ quality of life.
By all means, look at the Dolores River Valley Plan in light of the experiences of the past few years, but look at it honestly. No land-use document will perfectly address every situation, but that is no reason to back away from the very real reasons the DRVP was created. It was not forced upon anyone; it was crafted very carefully with ample opportunity for input from everyone who could possibly have a stake.
Do not dismantle the DRVP. It does what it was supposed to do, and that purpose is compelling indeed. As the saying goes, water is the lifeblood of the West. It is not a political game piece.