As the days get hotter and the water gets lower in the Dolores River, the issue of trespass on private river courses can become contentious. My husband and I own a tract of land on the south edge of the town of Dolores with a lengthy section of the Dolores River running through it. In general when we find people trespassing and ask that they leave, there are no issues and the people depart. However occasionally, and most often in July and August when the river is low, we find people who refuse to leave. There are shouts that “No one can own the river,” “We have every right to be here as long as we are in the water” or “You don’t own the water.” Some people become quite belligerent and offensive, so that our peaceful summer days are tainted with the ugliness.
While there is a great deal of confusion regarding the issue of trespass on river courses, Colorado law is clear. It allows people to float through private property as long as they do not touch the riverbed. If any part of the riverbed, riverbank, protruding rocks or vegetation is touched, trespass is occurring. See People v. Emmert, 1983 Colo. 137, 597 P. 2d 1025 (Colo. 1979) and Colo. Rev. Stat 18-4-504.5 (1998).
So please respect the property rights of river owners as you would any other landowner. We do, in fact, own the land under the water on our property and wish for privacy, peace and quiet on our land. There are ample public land opportunities on the Dolores River in and out of the town of Dolores (everything down river from the 4th Street Bridge and Riverside Park, for example). Please make use of those lands. You are fortunate to have them.
Leslie and Cliff Stewart