Dolores River comes back to life

Against all the odds, water flowed back into the Lower Dolores River last week. Diligent boaters helped themselves to more than seven days of boatable flows on the nearby river after McPhee Reservoir filled and then spilled. Meanwhile, a collaborative effort is on the verge of announcing new solutions for the beleaguered river.

Flows on the Lower Dolores have been stunted since McPhee Dam was built in 1985. While agriculture has been greatly enhanced by the reservoir, the character of the canyon country has been greatly impacted. The impact has been especially noticeable since 2000, when significant water was last released from the dam. Since that time, spring run-off above the reservoir has been as high as 3,000 cubic feet per second yet trickling at a mere 40 cfs below the dam. Boaters are not the only ones who have suffered from this situation. Absence of water has negatively impacted wildlife and damaged what was once a world-class fishery.

However, the Lower Dolores had a little of its old flavor last week, thanks to a bit of luck and timing in the meltdown of the regional snowpack. Though high winds and dust storms largely decimated alpine snowpack in the San Juans, inflows still managed to fill McPhee Reservoir. And on May 24, the excess water started spilling downstream to the benefit of local wildlife and area boaters. Throughout the week, river levels rose steadily to 800 cfs and crested at nearly 1,100 cfs on Monday. As of press time, the levels were dropping again and expected to be unboatable by the weekend.

Meanwhile, a group of diverse interests has been working long and hard for more permanent solutions on the Lower Dolores. The Dolores River Coalition was launched in June of 2003 with a mission of protecting and enhancing the entire Dolores River Basin. The coalition spans 23 different user groups ranging from conservationists to government agencies to water boards. Though the group is working on issues throughout the river basin, one of the first items on a long list is getting more water to flow below McPhee Dam.

In addition, the Lower Dolores River Plan Working Group has been at the table for a year and half with a mind to offering lasting protection to the river basin. The group was created to explore a potential Wild and Scenic River designation for the Dolores as well as alternate modes of protection. The hard work is about to pay off and the working group will announce strategies for helping the Lower Dolores in coming months.

“It’s definitely an exciting time for the Dolores River,” said Amber Kelley, Dolores River Campaign Coordinator with San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We’re still working on it, but we’ve come up with some promising tools to protect the values down there.”

Meanwhile, Four Corners residents have an opportunity to raise a glass to the Dolores River this weekend. The annual Dolores River Festival returns to Joe Rowell Park in Dolores on June 5. More information is available on page 20 of this week’s paper or online at .

Locally produced film garners acclaim

A short film produced in the Four Corners is garnering big national accolades. “Visit With Respect” won a national award from the Society for American Archaeology during its recent 75th anniversary meeting in St. Louis.

The documentary profiles community members from the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Acoma and Santa Clara Pueblo, and highlights the personal connections between modern American Indians and Four Corners archaeological sites. The film was produced by Victoria Atkins of the Bureau of Land Management, and Margie Connolly and Shirley Powell of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

“The messages in the film are sincere reflections of the need to take care of these ancient landscapes and homes,” said Atkins. “As Ernie Vallo says so well in the film ‘I ask your respect for the sites. It’s coming from the bottom of my heart. Whether you’re out there alone in the backcountry or on a tour group, ask permission from the ancestral spirits when you are coming in. And when you do leave, just say thank you for sharing your house today.’”

“Visit With Respect” was one of 65 submissions to the Society for American Archaeology’s 7.5 Film Fest. After initial review by the National Geographic Society, 30 films were selected for screening in St. Louis, with only four films, including “Visit With Respect,” ultimately receiving awards.

The film previously received the Caroline Bancroft History Award from the Colorado Historical Society and is shown regularly at the Anasazi Heritage Center, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and at The Pueblo of Acoma’s Sky City Cultural Center and Ha’aku Museum.

Plague of locusts forecast for West

A storm of locusts could be on the horizon. Forecasters are expecting an invasion of grasshoppers all over the West this summer, and the swarm is expected to escalate to near Biblical proportions in some areas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expecting 2010 to bring the worst grasshopper outbreak since the mid-1980s. Based on a warm and dry spring and a survey indicating a large number of eggs, Western States should be seeing swarms as soon as early June.

The heaviest outbreaks are expected in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. However, the insects are currently hatching in New Mexico and Arizona, and the Four Corners could get a taste of the hopper outbreak.  

The insects promise to be more than a mere nuisance. Up to 15 separate species of “hungry pest” are expected to take flight in the West this summer, and millions of acres of grass, forage and vegetables could go into their mandibles.

The locust plague is expect to peak in August, when dryness and heat sap crops and offer prime grazing for the pests.

– Will Sands