Dolores River - The Early April Update

Posted: 04/06/2017
By: Nathan Fey

Dolores, Colorado - This week, US Bureau of Reclamation released its updated operating plan for McPhee Dam and Reservoir.  Three scenarios have been developed, based on the latest information from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center (CRBFC).  Here’s what you need to know: all three Scenarios can provide a 4000 cfs release for four days, the most probable scenario projects more than 87 days of flows greater that 800cfs, and 50 days over 2000 cfs. Consistent flows over Memorial Day weekend and fish sampling flows on the receeding limb, will be certain. And the reservoir will fill - providing water to municipal and ag users. This season is shaping up to be a win-win-win.

Of the three scenarios being planned, the most probable (50% exceedance) forecasts 420K acre-feet of inflow into McPhee Reservoir. This scenario projects inflows to McPhee of 142% of average, with 277K acre-feet of water for downstream release. This scenario provides that flows will continue around 1200 cfs through April 10th, when flows will ramp up to 2000cfs for the next 20 days.  A high flow event of 4000 cfs is planned for early-mid May, and flows will recede back to optimal levels into early June.  By June 5th, flows should hold steady at minimum boating levels for the next week.

Other scenarios being developed are based on 70% exceedance using the CBRFC 380K inflow, and the CBRFC forecast of 357K of inflow. Scenarios 2 and 3 are adjusted so that the operating plan for McPhee reservoir projects bringing storage to a higher elevation prior to the 4000 CFS release, and later boating releases to be at lower levels for shorter duration. While these scenarios are more achievable, we are confident that the more boating days are possible with the latest data.

American Whitewater is currently discussing the timing and duration of the high flow event with BOR and the Dolores Water Conservancy District. There may be an opportunity to move the 4000 CFS release to start the weekend of May 6 to accommodate boater feedback. 

When the Dolores Inflow matches the McPhee outflow, releases will start ramping down.  From 800 CFS down DWCD will cut back to 600 CFS over 24 hours and then hold for 24 hours.  This pattern repeats through 400, then 200 then down to 75 CFS.  Boaters will have 4 days to get off the water when flows drop from 800 CFS to below 400 CFS when the release ends.

Several Notices:

SLICKROCK Access:  Slickrock put-in/take-out access will happen on private property downstream of Hwy 141 bridge (bridge crosses Dolores River) about 200 yards past bridge on river left.  Look for small flagging in bushes on left.  DO NOT use the old boat ramp on river right upstream of bridge. That is private property and is not accessible this season.  Additional info about Slickrock access here from DRBA:

BEDROCK BRIDGE:  Colorado DOT’s temporary equipment bridge was removed Thursday afternoon March 30. No intermittent closures are expected for a week or two. When a more definitive start date is available CDOT will provide notice.  Please see their website for more info, and look for signs, spotters and other guidance from the contractor, SEMA Construction, when the intermittent closures are active.

DOVE CREEK PUMPHOUSE ROAD:  Please be careful of heavy traffic in and out of the Dove Creek Pumps launch site.  The road narrows and trucks with trailers cannot pass each other at certain points.  Consideration of others and patience are appreciated here.    


                                       DOLORES RIVER BOATING SURVEY:

                                After your trip, Please Take Our Online Survey!

              Your participation will directly inform the next release from McPhee Dam. 

                                              Make your voice heard!

American Whitewater has developed a web-based survey that allows paddlers to report on their experiences on the Lower Dolores River this season.  With this survey we are collecting important information, directly from YOU, to help us improve McPhee Dam operations in coordination with DWCD, Reclamation, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  

Your input will help us:

1)  Report on various factors that influence your experience on the river,

2)  Identify where you think improvements in river management can be made,

3)  Assess the impact that river-recreation has on local economies.

This effort is part of AW's ongoing role as the leading Recreation Interest in the Dolores River Dialogue and the Lower Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recovery Team. 

Colorado Stewardship Director

Nathan Fey

1601 Longs Peak Ave.

Longmont, CO 80501

Phone: 303-859-8601
Full Profile

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Dolores River (CO)

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