Releases to Lower Dolores River certain in 2017.
Cortez, Colorado - Every spring, American Whitewater and local interests in Dolores Water sit down with the latest data on snowpack, water supply, and McPhee Reservoir storage, to determine how releases, if possible, can be timed to provide the best paddling opportunities, while doing good things for fish, and the health of the River.
Releases for the lower Dolores River are certain in 2017, and the most probable February forecasts indicate 61 days of streamflow below McPhee Dam above 800cfs! Included in this season's preliminary release schedule, are 39 days above 2000cfs, and 4 days at 4000 cfs. Flows over Memorial Day weekend, are expected to be 2500cfs. The potential for flows like this give AW and our partners a great opportunity to provide a fill range of paddling opportunities from McPhee Dam to the Colorado River, and to restore habitat for native fish, scour the stream of encroaching vegetation and sediment loads, and re-charge groundwater along 200 miles of the Dolores.
February forecasts are still very early in the decision-making process, so nothing is finalized between AW and Water Managers. But, conversations this year are focused on "how big" of a release will be made - not whether a release is even possible. At this time, forecasted runoff in the Dolores Basin is 149% of normal, and reservoir content is the highest it has been for this time of year since 2011 - with only 90,000 acre-feet of water needed until the resevoir is full. February's inflow forecast for April - July 2017 is 440,000 acre-feet. Average inflow is 295,000 acre-feet.
The last time McPhee Dam "spilled" was 2011. In 2016, a small release was made from McPhee Dam after Memorial Day. This year, there should be plenty of opportunity to get on the water and experience one of the most iconic rivers in the southwest.
The current 2017 forcast calls for 255,000 acre-feet of water released into the Dolores, with early season flows of 400cfs starting on April 9. By April 16th, flows will ramp up to 1200cfs and 2000cfs by the end of April. Peak flows of 4000cfs are anticipated for May 19th-23rd. Flows greater than 1000cfs are predicted to last well into June.
AW will be working with the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Bureau of Reclamanation, and local partners over the next several weeks to finalize the schedule of releases. Stay Tuned as more data and information becomes available.