As the general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Mike Preston rode the highs and lows of water supplies on the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, Colorado’s second-largest lake.
Riding the swells during his 12-year tenure, he oversaw water delivery upgrades, managed drought and record snows, administered a multimillion-dollar budget, managed dam releases for whitewater boating and native fishery, negotiated a drought plan, defended against a potential mussel invasion and fought to protect regional water rights.
Recently retired, he took a look back with The Journal. One of the big challenges was dealing with drought and water shortages, Preston said. He credited tenacity of farmers working through the dry periods and their cooperation with the district during drought in 2013, 2015 and 2018. The input of the Farmer Advisory Committee played a key role.
“Direct communication between each farmer and our field crews is what got us all through difficult times,” he said.
In cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, in 2016 the district completed a $8 million project to overhaul five Dolores Project pumping plants. BOR contributed $7 million, Preston said, “but it was the expertise of our field crews that for the most part conducted the overhaul. DWCD plant mechanics and high-voltage electricians give us the capability to meet these challenges.”
He added that there is a long-term facility maintenance plan in place with more work on canals in the coming years.
Other highlights of his time as manager include:
Improved communication between DWCD and the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. board, which holds senior water rights on the Dolores River and has storage rights in McPhee.Implementing the Dolores River Dialogue in 2005, a collaboration between the district, boaters and fish biologists to fine-tune boating releases and improve habitat for three native fish species below the dam. The effort to protect the fish is intended to keep them off the Endangered Species Act list and avoid additional federal regulations.Participation in the Lower Dolores Monitoring and Recommendation Team. The group aligned boater and ecological needs during years when there was excess water for a dam release.Kept the district involved in defending local water rights at state and federal levels, including on the subjects of Colorado in-stream flow rights, and the potential for a U.S. Wild and Scenic River designation on the Lower Dolores.“So far, we have found approaches that allow these agencies to meet their statutory obligations in a manner that does not put Dolores Project obligations at risk,” Preston said.
Kept involved with the Dolores Watershed and Resilient Forest collaborative, an education and outreach effort that seeks to protect the Dolores watershed relied on McPhee Reservoir. The group advocates for restoring forest health through thinning, logging and prescribed fire.A true water policy wonk, Preston never missed a water meeting, and was never at a loss of words on the subject. As a facilitator, he brought diverse groups and opinions to the table for discussion, negotiation and decision-making.
“The job turned out to be so worthwhile and fulfilling. I will still be involved in the community,” he said.
Some interests he will pursue include studying the potential for local hydro-electric projects, re-establishing the local wood industry, forest health and efficient irrigation technology.