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Congresswoman Lauren Boebert Reintroduces the House Companion to the Bipartisan Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act


Photo from Lauren Boebert Website


March 10, 2023

Press Release

Today, Congresswoman Lauren Boebert reintroduced the House companion to the bipartisan and bicameral Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act to protect private water rights and conserve the Dolores River.


Congresswoman Lauren Boebert stated, “The bipartisan Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act is the gold standard for public lands bills as it protects traditional uses and was written from the ground up by a bipartisan coalition of local stakeholders. So many other public lands bills in Congress trample on the rights and liberties of the American people, but this legislation is good for conservation, good for private property rights, and good for local communities. I thank Senator Bennet, Chairman Heart, the San Miguel County Commissioners, the Montezuma County Commissioners, the Dolores County Commissioners, and all the amazing people in Southwest Colorado who put their heart into this bill and played an important role in building this strong coalition.”


San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper said, “San Miguel County has been actively participating, for over a decade, in regional stakeholder discussions to determine the best locally driven long-term management for the Dolores River. The Dolores County National Conservation Area and Special Management Area is a locally built and broadly supported proposal that protects the valid existing uses which sustain our region as well as the natural resources and surrounding environment that are highly valued by locals and visitors. We are grateful to Representative Boebert for supporting our local collaborative efforts by sponsoring the House version of the Dolores NCA and look forward to working with her office to ensure the protection of this endangered landscape and the local participation in ongoing management.”


Outdoor Alliance CEO Adam Cramer stated, “Outdoor Alliance is pleased to see the introduction of the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act. The Dolores is a spectacular landscape with prized outdoor recreation resources, including sandstone climbing and remote whitewater. We are grateful to Senator Bennet, Senator Hickenlooper, and Representative Boebert for championing protection for the Dolores and look forward to working together to ensure this landscape is protected for generations to come.” 


Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Chairman Manuel Heart said, “Our Dolores Project allocations are the centerpiece of our Colorado Water Rights Settlement. The Dolores Project provides clean drinking water for our people and the businesses that sustain our economy including our 7,700-acre Tribal Farm, cow herd and corn mill. The NCA legislation protects our Dolores Project allocations by legislatively resolving the conflicting authorities of the Bureau of Reclamation to manage McPhee Reservoir allocations and Forest Service/BLM authorities below McPhee Reservoir.  The legislation also protects Tribal cultural rights and practices in the NCA, and involves the Tribe in collaborative efforts to manage for sensitive native fish below McPhee, another key to protecting our Dolores Project allocations.”


Senator Michael Bennet said, “Over millions of years, the Dolores River carved a canyon renowned – not just in our state, but across the country – for its majestic red rock walls that tower over the ponderosa pines. For the people of Southwest Colorado, the river is more than just a landmark – it’s the lifeblood of their communities and way of life. This bill was written in Colorado, by Coloradans who live, work, and depend on the Dolores River. It represents a balanced, sensible way forward to resolve many of the long-standing disagreements, protect the river for all parties, and provide long-term certainty for generations.”

Senator John Hickenlooper stated, “Southwest Colorado leaders have worked for years to protect and invest in the Dolores River. This bill turns their work into commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will pass in a divided Congress.”


Governor Jared Polis stated, “Here in Colorado, we are preserving and protecting our world-class outdoors, supporting our thriving agriculture industry, and expanding opportunities for outdoor recreation, and legislation to protect our treasured land in the Lower Dolores River canyon is a great step towards achieving these goals.”


Dolores County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Steve Garchar stated, “Dolores County has worked diligently on the NCA legislation since its beginning as the Lower Dolores River Working Group.  Through the years of collaboration of many varied interest groups we have a working product that shows how a bipartisan group of stakeholders can come together to provide local support and legislative efforts to protect a remarkable and adored landscape.  This protection will keep the Dolores River that flows through Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel Counties and has increased farming techniques for the Ute Mountain Utes as a life sustaining and economic resource.  Knowing that the Dolores River with all of its outstanding remarkable values, natural resources and existing uses will be under local legislative control for years to come is a worthwhile feat.”


The Montezuma County Commissioners said, “The proposal is the result of a long-standing collaborative effort to protect the Dolores River and the interests of the various stakeholders that it serves, including water users, agricultural entities, local governments, OHV users, conservation groups, and recreationalists. ln crafting the NCA proposal, Montezuma County, San Miguel County, Dolores County, and other partners sought to address a myriad of concerns, including those arising from the finding that the Dolores River is ‘suitable’ for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It is the position of Montezuma County that designating the Dolores River as Wild and Scenic would result in significant consequences for water users and other groups seeking to access natural resources along the river corridor. By supporting the proposal for an NCA, it is Montezuma County’s intent to ensure that portions of the lower Dolores River that run through Montezuma, Dolores, and San Miguel counties will not be designated as Wild and Scenic, and it is our position that the NCA proposal sets forth an acceptable compromise between the various stakeholders interested in utilizing water and land resources in and along the Dolores River.”


Local rancher operating in the proposed NCA, Al Heaton, stated, “I have worked continuously on this proposal since 2008. I believe local participation in the management of the area will provide better benefits for the native fish, scenic area, recreation, permitted federal land uses, private land values and water rights than a wild and scenic designation. I have ranching and farming operations in all three counties involved. I appreciate your continued support and hope this can go forward in the bipartisan way we have shown is possible with the diverse local groups that put this proposal together.”


Wilderness Society Senior Regional Conservation Representative Jeff Widen said, “The lands in this legislation are a key piece of a broader landscape scale conservation effort to connect important wildlife corridors and protect the biodiversity in the greater Dolores River canyon country. Years of science-based collaboration helped move these efforts forward and we are excited that these lands near the Dolores are getting the attention they deserve.”


Background:

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert has once again introduced the House companion to the bipartisan Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act. Congresswoman Boebert is introducing nearly identical legislation again this year.

Congresswoman Boebert’s bipartisan Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act is the identical House companion to the bill introduced by Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper.

Nearly two decades in the making, the proposed National Conservation Area and Special Management Area would span three counties (Dolores, San Miguel, and Montezuma), covering 68,851 acres in the San Juan National Forest and the Dolores River Corridor.

In the 1970s, this stretch of the Dolores River was deemed suitable for a Wild and Scenic River (WSR) federal designation by the Bureau of Land Management. A WSR designation would not be in the best interests of rural Colorado since it would include a new federal reserved water right, negatively impacting existing private water rights and prohibiting other traditional uses.

In response to the threat of a WSR negatively impacting private water rights and other traditional uses, the Dolores River Dialogue (a coalition of diverse interests focused on improving the management issues in the Dolores River Corridor) formed the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group. This working group brought together a diverse and bipartisan group of about 50 local stakeholders, representing water users, ranchers, farmers, boaters, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, private property owners, mining companies, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, and others.

The Lower Dolores Plan Working Group was tasked with submitting a report to the public land managers regarding the Dolores Corridor Plan to find an alternative to the potential WSR designation.

As a result, the Legislative Subcommittee of the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group drafted the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act.

The current bill will designate the 45,455 acres Dolores River Canyon National Conservation Area that will be managed primarily by the Bureau of Land Management. The bill will also designate the 15,664 acres Dolores River Canyon Special Management Area that will be managed primarily by the U.S. Forest Service.

The bill permanently eliminates the potential designation of a Wild and Scenic River designation. This legislation protects private water rights and prevents the seizure of water rights by the federal government. This bill does not infringe on private property rights or on the jurisdiction of local county governments. The legislation allows for traditional uses in this area to continue including motorized use, grazing, mineral development, and uranium production.


Supporters of the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act include: San Miguel CountyDolores CountyMontezuma County, Archuleta County, La Plata County, the City of Cortez; the towns of Dove Creek, Norwood, and Dolores; the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Dolores River Boating Advocates, the Wilderness Society, American Rivers, Conservation Lands Foundation, American Whitewater, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Conservation Colorado, Sheep Mountain Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, Conservation Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Industry Association, Jagged Edge Mountain Gear, Trout Unlimited, San Miguel Watershed Coalition, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Colorado, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

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