JUST RELEASED: State of the San Miguel Watershed Report 2014 – click here to learn more.


About the Watershed

The million-acre San Miguel Watershed in southwest Colorado lies within one of the largest relatively undisturbed areas that remains in North America. At its heart, the free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, Ophir and Trout Lake through scenic canyons to a desert confluence with the Dolores River in red rock country near the Utah border. The San Miguel is one of the few remaining ecologically and hydrologically intact river systems in Colorado. The USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management manage a majority of the land in the watershed, and within its boundaries are the towns of Nucla, Naturita, Norwood, Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir, Placerville and Sawpit.

Historically, the area’s economy has been based on mining, ranching, logging, power production and agricultural activities. More recently, there has been significant residential and commercial development in the upper basin because of the Telluride Ski Resort, summer festivals, and recreational activities. Roughly 6,000 people live and work in the watershed with many more commuting into the area daily for employment and enjoyment.

The San Miguel Basin is changing. The upper basin shift to a resort economy, coupled with a decline of traditional industries, has altered social and economic patterns. Residents are concerned about a host of environmental issues, such as decreasing water supplies, degrading riparian communities, the spread of noxious weeds, impacts to water quality, and unstable river channels. Basin communities are challenged with finding ways to enhance their long-term economic and cultural interests while preserving the environment.

1,000,000 acres

The size of the San Miguel Watershed

80 miles

Length of the San Miguel River


The San Miguel Basin Is Changing