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Dolores River Releases - Final March Update

Posted: 03/27/2017
By: Nathan Fey

March 27, 2017.
A warm March has started the runoff early and driving McPhee Reservoir elevations up, approaching 6915 and rising. Therefore releases will start ramping up March 29, 2017. 

McPhee releases will reach 800 CFS by Friday March 31, 2017 and 1,200 CFS by Saturday April 1, 2017. Updates will start more regularly next Monday. Continue to watch the releases below McPhee at…/detail_graph.aspx… and the gages linked below.

March stayed dry up until last week. Since then we’ve received two storms with more on the way. What’s been more of an impact were the warmer sunny days for most of March. Those record warm days translated into an isothermal snow pack across Colorado that is all poised to start melting. Although there was some warning, it became very apparent last week that the runoff was coming in much higher and sooner than normal. We often see some early melt then cooler weather that slows down the runoff. The recent storms and cloud cover has steadied the inflow, but irrigation has not started and McPhee continues to rise. Storms are possible for another 10 -14 days, but will only slow the rising runoff, not stop the inflow. 

We expect to reach 2,000 CFS flows next week and still intend to release higher 4,000 CFS releases later in spring, but are still adjusting plans to the changing runoff. We will post the next update Monday April 3 and again later next week when we receive an April 1st forecast from CBRFC.


March 21st - Last week, AW and Dolores water interests met again to update the 2017 operating plan for McPhee Dam based on updated supply forecasts. 

Based on the latest information, spills will begin between April 11 - Aprill 16.  Rafting releases around 2,000 CFS should begin around April 15th, and continue for 30+ days.  A high flow event of 4000cfs is likely in mid to late May.

AW staff continues to work with water managers as the season approaches. Our next update on releases to the lower Dolores will be available after the April 1 Colorado Basin River Forecast Center update.  We will be providing regular updates every Monday & Thursday starting in April.

The water supply forecast has dropped since March 1, but still provides plenty of water for a release from McPhee Reservoir.  As of March 20th, McPhee sits at elevation 6906 (+/-) and lacks about 75 KAF to fill at elevation 6924.00.see link  

We have concluded several meetings for input and have released BOR’s operating plan for 2017.  The plan’s goal is to start ramping up releases between April 9 to 14,  at 400 CFS per day. At this rate, releases from McPhee Dam will reach 800 CFS within 2 days.  We will continue ramping up until we reach 2,000 CFS of releases, which will hold for several weeks with minor adjustments for increased inflow.  The release has been delayed in part to ensure a 4,000 CFS spike for 5+/- days around the 3rd week of May.  Releases will drop back down to 2,000 CSF for the Memorial Day weekend and to the end of the spill in early June.


Several Notices:

Please be careful of heavy traffic in and out of the Dove Creek Pump Station launch site. 

Dolores River Boating Advocates is working with local landowners to provide access at Slickrock.  Two possible locations are on private property -  please respect all rules to keep them open for the future.  More at the DRBA site:

Colorado Department of Transportation is doing bridge work on Hwy 90 at Bedrock that may require short delays for safe passage under the replacement steel girders.  Please see their website at and look for signs, spotters and other guidance from the contractor, SEMA Construction.

Ramp down is not currently expected until early June, but that schedule could change with two more months of dry weather.  The snow on the ground that is starting to melt will carry us through the first 45 days.  When the Dolores Inflow matches the McPhee outflow the release will start ramping down.  At 800 CFS managers cut releases back to 600 over 24 hours and then hold for 24 hours.  This pattern repeats through 400, then 200 then down to 75 CFS base flows.  Ultimately paddlers will have 4 days from 800 CFS to below 400 CFS.






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Dolores River (CO)

American Whitewater is working to conserve and restore a dynamic, healthy Dolores River by leveraging recreational water needs to enhance and support in-stream flows.

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