Proposed Federal Protection for Dolores River

June 13, 2023

A bill aiming to protect 76 miles of the Dolores River appears poised for passage. The measure was reintroduced this spring by Senator Michael Bennet after it ran out of time in the 2022 session. The legislation has bi-partisan support, including an identical companion bill in the House introduced by Representative Lauren Boebert. By Connor Shreve. This story is sponsored by TruWest Auto and Blondies Trophy Room

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A proposal in our nation's capital aims to protect tens of thousands of acres of land in Southwest Colorado. Water users from river runners to ranchers and many in between are hoping the bill passes. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by TruWest Auto and Blondie's Trophy Room, I'm Connor Shreve. Bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. is not always easy to find, but it appears to be taking shape with an effort to designate the Delores River as a national conservation area. The measure would put McPhee water rights in the hands of local stakeholders.

A national conservation area will also protect the grazing and the mining, the extraction industries that go on. They cannot happen within a quarter mile of the river, but they can still go on in the area, in valid, existing rights.

Since 2008, a group representing a diverse coalition of local water users have been working on a way to resolve many longstanding disagreements on the authority on water rights in the area. The Federal Wild and Scenic River designation legislatively resolves conflicting authorities over the Delores River corridor. Delores County Commissioner Steve Garchar says, "This measure is the culmination of 13 years of working to protect local interests in the river."

Those interests would be natural resources. Since 1881, Delores County has been dependent on natural resources. We started out with gold and silver mining, the mining epic Rico led into the uranium mining, which did not happen that much in Delores County, but the surrounding area. And Delores Dove Creek, Delores County supported those miners.

More than two dozen local stakeholder groups, along with local Tribal governments, have supported the legislation, including Delores, La Plata, and Montezuma Counties, the City of Cortez, and the towns of Dove Creek, Norwood, and Delores. It's also supported by conservation groups like the Wilderness Society, American Rivers, Conservation Lands Foundation, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Garchar says that, "Wide support is a testament to all the interests who have worked on the measure." It is a credit to our diversity, our working together, working across boundaries, working with everyone that had a stake in this to come to the best outcome we could possibly come to for the people of the area. All three counties will benefit from this. The control will be local instead of federal. And we feel we can handle it, protect our resource better that way. The bill introduced by Democratic Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, is currently waiting on a vote in the Senate. Republican Congresswoman, Lauren Boebert, has introduced a companion bill in the House. That support gives Garchar confidence it will eventually pass. It designates a 75 mile stretch of the river as a national conservation area and bans new mining, new oil, and gas leases, dams, roads, and commercial timber harvesting. Current mining rights, ranching allotments, and recreation access would not be affected. Garchar believes the designation will change the river corridor for the better.

People that understand and know what's going on. People that are affected by the decisions that they make and affect the people around them, the people that they live with. Ultimately, supporters of the National Conservation Area Act hope the measure helps provide long-term protection of the Delores River and consequently, helps those who rely on the river. For more information about this and other stories, visit Thank you for watching this edition of the Local News Network, I'm Connor Shreve.


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