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Members of a Durango-based group intended to help protect five rivers around southwestern Colorado have gone their separate ways after 10 years together. The River Protection Workgroup, a collection of water managers from the Southwestern Water Conservation District and conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited, The Wilderness Society, and San Juan Citizens Alliance, had its final meeting in May.

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On Monday, a public meeting held by the Dolores Water Conservancy District (DWCD) was met with a standing-room-only crowd—not a regular occurrence at water management meetings.  The day after the meeting, KSJD's Austin Cope talked with Mike Preston, DWCD General Manager, to learn more about the District's plans for McElmo.

Austin Cope / KSJD

About 75 residents of McElmo Canyon filled the Dolores Water Conservancy District meeting room Monday night to encourage water managers to consider the canyon’s welfare when planning for the next drought. 

The Arkansas River supports economies in Colorado from Leadville to La Junta and beyond. With base industries including tourism and agriculture, southern Colorado depends on the river's yearly flows. But climate researchers expect declines in those flows over time, leaving the Arkansas River and its dependents at risk of facing a future with less water.

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The Dolores River below McPhee Dam is no longer boatable, but there is still a chance of a brief additional boating release in June if the remaining snowpack starts to melt rapidly. Releases have been ramped down to 200 cubic feet per second or less to allow the lake to fill. Reservoir managers say drier-than-normal weather prevented them from extending boating releases through the Memorial Day weekend.