Skip to main content

Dolores River

A uniquely spectacular western landscape – let’s protect it via legislation to designate a National
Conservation Area or by executive proclamation to establish a National Monument.

The Dolores River begins amidst 14,000 ft summits in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and flows for more than 230 miles to join the Colorado River in Utah. The Dolores River features magnificent stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, thrilling white-water rapids, sheer-walled sandstone canyons, and hidden archaeological treasures.

Dolores River Dialogue

For over a decade, the San Juan Citizens Alliance worked in collaboration with local businesses, irrigators, land and water managers, wildlife officials, and conservation, fishing, and recreation organizations as part of the Dolores River Dialogue to search for ways to improve management of the Lower Dolores.

After the Dolores River was found suitable for Wild and Scenic River designation, the community came together in the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group to find an alternative management solution that would work for all river users. The Working Group formed a 68,000-acre National Conservation Area (NCA) that would protect the river corridor from McPhee Dam downstream to Big Gypsum Valley from energy development.

Photo: John Fielder

National Conservation Area

In 2023, after years of preparation, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation to establish a National Conservation Area designation for the Lower Dolores River corridor from McPhee Dam to Big Gypsum Valley. The NCA was designed in the place of a potential Wild and Scenic River designation to provide similar protections. The proposal was built through collaboration of many stakeholders and was vetted and reviewed by all affected parties.

RAFTING

The Dolores River hosts one of the longest continuous rafting stretches in the United States at 170 miles. The NCA highlights these whitewater boating recreation opportunities, but unfortunately is unable to increase downstream water deliveries out of McPhee Dam.

NATIVE FISH

River flows below the McPhee Dam must be managed to protect native fish species. The NCA will focus on flow management and habitat improvement for these species, though no additional water releases are provided by the legislation.

WATER RIGHTS

In the NCA, existing water rights would be honored and protected; and there would be no additional downstream water releases required by the legislation. New water storage projects would be prohibited.

VALUES

The Dolores River is host to outstanding and valuable archaeological sites, geologic formations, fish and wildlife, and scenery. The NCA will secure protection for these qualities of the river.

MOTORIZED USE

Under the NCA motorized use will be limited to designated routes and no new roads will be permitted except for administrative purposes, protection of public health and safety, or to provide access to private property.

GRAZING

The NCA designation will not affect existing grazing operations on public lands.

MINERAL LEASING

The NCA prohibits new oil and gas leases and uranium claims. Where valid leases exist, those can be explored until they expire.

PONDEROSA GORGE

The NCA omits designation of any new wilderness in the Ponderosa Gorge, but prohibits mining and energy development, roads, and motorized vehicles.

Current Status

The Dolores River NCA legislation was approved by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in December 2023, and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate. 

Alternatively, President Biden could proclaim a National Monument for some or all of the Dolores River canyonlands under the authority of the Antiquities Act, similar to the creation of the popular Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Recent News

Wolf Creek Pass Panorama

Take Action: Protect Colorado’s Waterways

| Rivers, Take Action | No Comments
We oppose exploratory drilling and uranium mining in Slick Rock Canyon for these reasons. We ask that you deny the local county permit.

Take Action: Say NO to Uranium Exploration and Mining in Slick Rock Canyon

| Lands Protection, Rivers, Take Action | No Comments
We oppose exploratory drilling and uranium mining in Slick Rock Canyon for these reasons. We ask that you deny the local county permit.

The Beaver Effect

| Rivers | No Comments
Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting next to a stream. What do you see? What do you hear? You may be imagining noises associated with a babbling brook with water quickly moving down-gradient. Perhaps you see a bright…

Take Action: Protect Clean Water in Colorado

| Rivers, Take Action | No Comments
The comment window for this action alert has closed. Thanks for your interest! To stay involved and receive updates, please sign up for our emails. As we move into a future of climate uncertainty, and as streams with exceptional water…

Stay in the loop with the Alliance!