November 12, 2011--Dolores Project (Cortez Journal)

Southwest Colorado residents who arrived before the mid-1980s remember the landscape without McPhee Reservoir. They remember when the Dolores River passed under the bridge near Dolores and continued along its narrow way to the northwest, unimpeded by a dam. They remember how that canyon looked before it was flooded. Some of the other changes came more gradually, so they’re harder to pinpoint, but it’s important to remember that life without McPhee was, simply put, drier. Agriculture was different, and it brought in less revenue. The river was a torrent in the spring and a trickle the rest of the year, including most of the growing season. There was less water for municipal and industrial development. There were fewer canals, fewer trees. Treaty obligations to provide water were not being fulfilled. From Dove Creek to Towaoc, the land was browner, grayer. There was no Anasazi Heritage Center on the hill, providing an additional way for visitors to encounter Southwest archaeology, an additional reason for them to spend time in the area. There were no big trout in the Lower Dolores, nor kokanee above Dolores. There were no campgrounds by the lake, there was no boating on the lake, no ice-fishing there. There was no lake, and what a difference it has made. Reservoirs are not without their critics, precisely because they change a landscape in such dramatic and lasting ways. This one flooded a lumber town, obscured many archaeological resources, and changed downstream flows. No water project is without costs. The Dolores Project is remarkable in that nearly everyone in the area was willing to pay those costs. The project enjoyed widespread support, thanks in part to many years of groundwork laid by men who had the foresight to see, and teach others, what difference a dependable water supply would make.

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