Dolores Water Conservancy District: Water Law and Legislative Expert David Robbins to Review Dolores NCA Proposal, by Mike Preston

A recently released draft bill would ask Congress to designate portions of the Lower Dolores River as a National Conservation Area (NCA) and Wilderness Area. The much-anticipated proposed legislation was created over a five-year period by a legislative subcommittee put together by the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group.

It was released to the public in early April for community discussion and input. The draft NCA Legislation will not be sponsored or introduced in the House or Senate until a reasonable level of consensus can be achieved within the local community.

As part of the effort to arrive at a consensus approach, Water Attorney David Robbins, with extensive experience in water law and legislation, has been engaged to evaluate the water rights protections in the draft legislation. Robbins will also compare the water protections provided by an NCA to other outcomes such as the status quo of continued Wild and Scenic Suitability combined with bypass flow provisions and added native fish ORVs in the 2013 Tres Rios BLM/San Juan Forest Resource Management Plans and the possible overlay of an imposed National Monument designation. Robbins will prepare a written evaluation based on questions posed by water and county interests in Cortez on May 5th, and return later in the summer for an open community meeting to discuss his findings. His work is being funded by the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Southwestern Water Conservation District, and Dolores, Montrose, and San Miguel Counties.

The proposed Dolores River National Conservation Area would stretch from below McPhee Reservoir to Bedrock, CO, and include the river and federal land on both sides. The intent of the NCA legislation is to create a community-based management tool that improves protection of water rights on the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, while preserving the ecological values of the lower river canyons. Its exact boundaries are being worked out, but the proposed NCA will include the lower Dolores River Canyon, from rim to rim, on BLM land within Dolores, Montezuma, and San Miguel counties. The Wilderness Area in Montrose County is proposed to go to water’s edge, with the Dolores River staying within the NCA to provide the water protections included in the Draft NCA Legislation.

"The draft bill was formed through a credible and lengthy process by a diverse group of stakeholders," said Marsha Porter-Norton, a facilitator for the working group. "This discussion version is meant to stimulate community input and be reviewed by key governing boards. NCA legislation requires local support and buy-in to be successful."