• The Dolores River

Introduction to the Dolores River

Stretching for 241 miles, the Dolores River flows from its headwaters in the San Juan National Forest through Colorado and into Utah, where it terminates as a tributary of the Colorado River. In 1986, The Dolores River was dammed southwest of Dolores Colorado, creating the McPhee Reservoir. The reservoir covers 4,470 acres when full and has a drainage area of 809 square miles.

The hydrology, geomorphology, and biology of the Dolores River channel downstream from McPhee Reservoir have all been altered due to the changes in stream flow and sediment supply that are associated with the presence of a dam. These changes have the potential to create long term impacts on the shape and functioning of the Dolores River system.

Today, the Dolores River provides water to the cities of Cortez and Dove Creek, and to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe via manmade canals and reservoirs. The largest canal, the Nararaguinnep, brings water to the Montezuma Valley. To learn more about background information on the Dolores River, visit the Dolores River Restoration Partnership's (DRRP) StoryMap,  Dolores River Restoration Partnership , created by Rica Fulton.

McPhee reservoir, with cliffs dusted in snow
McPhee Reservoir. Photo Courtesy Dolores Water Conservancy District.
DRAMS team members looking at petroglyphs along the river.
DRAMS team members looking at petroglyphs along the river. Captured by Shauna Jensen.

The DRAMS Project

The Dolores River Adaptive Management Support (DRAMS) Team was formed in 2020 to support the management decisions and flow recommendations of The Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendations Team (M&R Team).

The M&R Team was formed in 2014 to focus on the habitat for the three sensitive warm-water native species: the flannelmouth sucker, the roundtail chub, and the bluehead sucker.


  1. Create baseline and annual geomorphic and vegetation monitoring program on the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. This will document historic channel changes, continued channel response to dam-controlled hydrology and sediment regime, channel response to future restoration efforts by monitoring before and after, changes in physical habitat for native fish, and impact of riparian vegetation on channel morphology.  
  2. Create a responsive monitoring program that can be implemented quickly in response to hydrologic conditions  such as high flow due to high snowpack and forecast runoff.

DRAMS Study Segments

The remote sensing part of the DRAMS project focuses its analysis and data collection on six study segments of the Dolores River. Embedded in the study segments are five shorter study reaches that contain field study sites where geomorphic and vegetation data are being collected annually from 2021 through 2025.

Study Segments (upstream to downstream)

  • Bradfield
  • Ponderosa Gorge
  • Lower Ponderosa
  • Below Disappointment Creek
  • Slickrock Canyon
  • Below San Miguel

Study Sites (upstream to downstream)

  • Dove Creek Pumps (in Ponderosa Gorge study segment)
  • Slick Rock Upstream of Disappointment Creek (in Lower Ponderosa study segment)
  • Slick Rock Downstream of Disappointment Creek (in the Below Disappointment Creek study segment)
  • Big Gypsum (also in the Below Disappointment creek study segment)
  • Salt Creek (in the Below San Miguel study segment)

The following interactive map shows the study segments and study sites. Each of the study segments has been color coded for ease of reference. The dashed line delineates the Dolores River watershed boundary and the blue triangles are the study sites.

Explore more of the DRAMS Project

Access DRAMS Project Database

DRAMS Project Funding

The DRAMS Project is made possible with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Nature Conservancy, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Dolores Water Conservancy District, and the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. 

Dolores River Adaptive Management Support project funding logos

DRAMS Project Partners

The five-year monitoring project is a collaboration between Fort Lewis College, Colorado Mesa University, RiversEdge West, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Reclamation, Conservation Legacy, US Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management. 

Dolores River Adaptive Management Support project partner logos

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FCWC staff

Kaitlin Mattos, Ph.D.
FCWC Interim Director & Assistant Professor of Environment & Sustainability

Center of Southwest Studies, Room 265

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