07.30.14

The Dolores River Gets a “Creative Solution to a Vexing Problem”

Southwest Colorado’s Dolores River Boating Advocates have collaborated with a landowner on the upper Dolores River to build a river fence that solves a mutual problem: fencing cows while keeping the river safe for boaters to pass.

Spring run-off creates rushing water – great for boating and a great natural fence for cows. Once the run-off diminishes and river flows go down, the boating season goes on hold. Cows aren’t deterred from crossing the low-flowing river, so some ranchers string cattle fencing across the river at that time.

Problems come up however, when the monsoon season arrives in late summer and the river rises again—giving boaters a second season on the river. Those fences are sometimes still up, and a few boaters have had dangerous run-ins with wire fence.

The community found a solution for one stretch of the river: building “curtain” fences made of PVC piping that can be put up and taken down as needed. “Boaters can maneuver through, and it spooks the cattle, so it is a safe alternative that works for boaters and ranchers,” said Lee-Ann Hill, Program Coordinator for the Dolores River Boating Advocates.

Dolores River Boating Advocates board members and volunteers helped construct a river fence that can be taken up and down as needed, to deter cows from crossing the river and allow boaters to pass safely.

Dolores River Boating Advocates board members and volunteers helped construct a river fence that can be taken up and down as needed, to deter cows from crossing the river and allow boaters to pass safely.

The group raised approximately $1200 for project materials. Donors included the Durango Home Depot store, Mild to Wild rafting company, and the Colorado River Outfitters Association. The landowner lent his backhoe to the project, operating it to dig holes for the fence posts.  Congratulations are due to everyone involved in this project – one that turned a community kerfuffle into a collaborative and reasonable win-win.

The whole Dolores River flows in a rough U-shape from its headwaters near Lizard Head Pass all the way to the Colorado River in Utah—some 246 miles. It is an important piece of the Colorado River system, which provides water for millions of people and agricultural acres in the southwest.  A dam and McPhee Reservoir, which were constructed in the late 80s, roughly divide the upper and lower stretches of the Dolores. Downstream from the dam, the river flows through three Wilderness Study Areas and has been the focus of long-term efforts to protect it as a new National Conservation Area and Wilderness. The Dolores River Boating Advocates, part of the Friends Grassroots Network, formed in the fall of 2011 and seek to optimize flows, restore the natural environment and permanently protect the Dolores River for white water boating.

The Conservation Lands Foundation, in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation,  is working to solve conservation issues on four priority tributaries of the Colorado River–and the Dolores River is one of those.  In addition, CLF is working to protect, restore and expand the rivers of the National Conservation Lands–which include 69 Wild & Scenic rivers running more than 2400 miles.  These great waterways cover approximately 1,165,0000 acres–or about 19 percent of the National Conservation Lands.

Learn more:

  • Take a google earth “fly-by” tour of the Dolores River (this is a great feature – it offers a neat aerial tour of the whole river)
  • Here’s more information on native fish species in the river.
  • Here’s a blog post written by a DRBA board member about stewardship and the fundamentals of advocacy.
  • You can tune in to “The River Trip,” a community radio show hosted by members of the Dolores River Boating Advocates on KSJD 90.5 fm, dedicated Dolores River news, announcement, special guests, stories and river runners.
The first people float safely through the new river fence. (photos courtesy of Dolores River Boating Advocates)

The first people float safely through the new river fence. (photos courtesy of Dolores River Boating Advocates)