If you ask a kid to draw a picture of a river, you’ll likely see a drawing that has a fish in that river. Because that is how many of us envision rivers—a ribbon of water that supports fish. Sadly, fish aren’t given the automatic right to have water in their rivers in our western states.

But thanks to the work of Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and San Juan Citizens Alliance, the state of Colorado is going to protect fish and wildlife on the Dolores River in Red Rock Country!

On September 15, the Colorado Water Conservation Board rendered a unanimous decision to seek a water right on the Dolores River to protect fish and wildlife, securing up to 900 cubic- feet per second of water during spring peak flowsand essential winter base flows, on a 20-mile river stretch near the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway between Gateway and Uravan, Colorado.  This largest instream flow protection on the river to date will help prevent three native fishes in the Dolores River from becoming threatened or endangered species. Picture these fish being drawn with party hats!

Bluehead Sucker cartoon fish

Three cheers for Rob Harris, our attorney who advocated for the water right, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s unanimous vote moving forward to secure this water for fish and wildlife on the magnificent Dolores River. Really it’s fishermen, boaters, and all wildlife and river lovers putting on the party hats because this decision will help keep water flowing in the Dolores for generations to come. It’s not just the fish who benefit!

While some would think keeping enough water flowing to support fish in the river is an obvious choice, the Board heard testimony opposing this water right. Some interests asked for water for unspecified future water demands. But the Colorado Water Conservation Board rebuffed that idea. The next step is for the Board to approach the state water court to formally secure the water right; it appears at this time that it should be a
straightforward process.

So a big shout out to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and our tireless partners at Conservation Colorado, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and elsewhere in the conservation community. All these entities helped make this victory possible. It’s really a ‘big tent’ party we should draw, because protecting fish and wildlife in the West requires a significant number of people working together.

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