Future of river gauge uncertain

Boaters live and die by river gauges, and the Dolores Boating Advocates want to make sure the gauge at Slick Rock remains into the future.

"It is depended on by the boating community, and we would like to help keep it in operation," said Lee-Ann Hill, DBA director.

Hill, and DBA board member Sam Carter, offered the Dolores Water Conservancy District $2,000 toward the gauge, located on the lower Dolores River near Slick Rock Canyon.

Funding for gauges is not guaranteed year to year, and they cost about $16,500 annually to operate. Lately, the DWCD board has been picking up the tab, but they say the gauge is not critical to operations and could be cut from the budget.

"It is not a major to what we do regarding reservoir operations, so we're not sure we want to carry it all ourselves, so thank you for stepping up," said DWCD board president Bruce Smart.

There has been more and more interest on the Lower Dolores as local user groups, environmentalists and federal agencies consider making the area a National Conservation Area. A key issue is protection of native fish on the river, including the bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker and humpback chub.

"Having the gauge meshes with the scientific studies going on down there," said DWCD board member Jim Fisher. "It is valuable for boaters and the BLM studies, but it is also expensive for us to fund year to year."

The U.S. Geological Services river gauge, along with others, helps to monitor flows and temperature data critical for native fish. It gives boaters a heads-up whether flows are adequate to float down the river.

"If we pursue a cost share together, I think we can keep the river gauge there into the future," Hill said.

USGS budget cuts have reduced the amount of river gauges. If matches are made by The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, USGS, BLM, the Southwest Water Conservancy District, DWCD, and other organizations, then the gauge's future is more certain, said DWCD manager Mike Preston.

"It shows what the flows are below the dam during a whitewater spill and provides scientific information. And you stepping up might put pressure on larger organizations match your amount," said DWCD manager Mike Preston.

The contribution is a big step, agreed DWCD board member Don Schwindt.

"Boaters are constituents also, and we need a long-term strategy for continued use of the gauge by you and us," he said.

River flows on the Dolores River are posted on the web at http://waterdata.usgs.gov