Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin told boating advocates on Tuesday that the June rafting accident was a "wake-up call" for all river users to pay attention and communicate with one another.
No criminal charges were filed in the June 2 incident, in which a rafter was injured by a cable that a landowner had strung across the Dolores River.
Addressing a meeting of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, Nowlin explained that the sheriff's office conducted numerous "painstaking interviews" and analyzed the evidence for months. The office concluded that the cable upstream of Dolores was poorly placed, but not set up to harm someone, Nowlin said.
The property owners, who live out of state, strung the cable in July 2014 when the river was low in order to walk across and carry equipment. At the end of the season, they buried the cable under rocks but didn't count on spring runoff to loosen the rocks and the cable.
The metal cable scraped five people off their raft on the river near County Road 34.4. A woman reportedly hit her head on a rock when thrown overboard and suffered a concussion. A man reported that his arm was caught on the cable and he suffered scrapes and bruises from his armpit to his wrist,
"When he (owner) was tracked down, he was interviewed extensively. He and his wife are rafters and river users themselves," said Nowlin. "After looking at all the evidence we had, there's no criminal charge we could bring."
Nowlin said the incident is an opportunity for landowners and river users to pay closer attention and communicate with each other. If rafters or tubers need to exit on private land - unless it's an emergency - they should have permission from landowners, he said.
"I will protect property owners just as I will protect your right to use the river. (Rafting) is a recreational activity that has increased economic value in Dolores and Montezuma County. Respect each other, and things will work out just fine," Nowlin said.
Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, updated the boating advocates on the discussion of the draft of the proposed Dolores River Canyon National Conservation Area.
The draft bill was released in April by a legislative subcommittee of the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group after a five-year process of research and community meetings.
It proposes the creation of the Dolores River National Conservation Area from Bradfield Bridge to Bedrock.
It also would designate a 47-square-mile area encompassing Slick Rock Canyon as the Dolores Canyon Wilderness Area. The wilderness area boundary would stop at the river's high-water mark on both banks.
Authors of the bill say it is intended as a discussion tool on ways to further protect the river valley while preserving water rights and agriculture. The bill hasn't been introduced in Congress, and doesn't have a sponsor.
"Essentially it would improve environmental management, take a much more coordinated approach to boating and environmental uses," said Preston.
Colorado Water Plan
Tim Hunter briefed attendees on the latest on the Colorado Water Plan.
The Colorado Water Plan is an initiative to help ensure security of the state's water supply. It's being developed with public input and the work of the basin roundtable, local governments, water providers and other stakeholders.
Hunter said the plan's final draft was open for public comment until Sept. 17 and encouraged stakeholders to submit comments and get involved.
There are six areas that stakeholders can comment on: input on water demand by sector; nonconsumptive goals and measurable outcomes; nonconsumptive projects and methods; watershed health/management; framework for more efficient water project permitting processes; and funding and financing.
"Commenting on state funding should insist that the state increase funding for on farm conservation technology," said Hunter. "Currently, there is no funding at the state level for on-farm efficiencies. Ag in Colorado accounts for 75 percent of consumptive use."
He noted that increasing farm efficiencies could leave more water in streams for environmental use while keeping the agriculture industry supported.
After the close of the public comment period, the draft goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper. A final plan could be completed in December.
The plan is available online at coloradowaterplan.com
Comments can be submitted to [email protected]