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Dolores Boating Season Recap and Survey

Posted: 07/11/2023
By: Hattie Johnson

Boatable flows on the lower Dolores River petered out at the end of June as downstream releases from McPhee dam matched the inflows into the reservoir. Boaters were about to enjoy a total of 55 days of flows over 800 cfs and an extended high flow period (over 3,200 cfs) for 28 days - an entire month. These flows were thanks to an extremely healthy snowpack in the southwest, especially low elevation snow that provided early season high water in the lower Dolores. If you got out to experience the river and haven’t yet had a chance to complete the survey about your experience, please do so today! We will close the survey on July 31st.

These flows not only provided a fantastic season for boaters, but met a series of ecological goals. The total volume of released water was 244,000 acre-feet and met and exceeded all the goals for a release of this size set out by the Lower Dolores Monitoring and Recommendations Team including temperature suppression, flushing flows, channel maintenance and floodplain and riparian flows. There has not been a “spill” - a release of water that was beyond what McPhee reservoir could hold - since 2019. There is a fish pool of water that is used to keep the channel wet even in dry years, but due to extremely reduced water supply over the past few years, stream gages downstream of the dam read 0 cfs on multiple occasions. This season offered Colorado Parks and Wildlife the opportunity to perform 2 fish surveys to understand how the drastic alteration to hydrology is affecting native fishes. All three native species (i.e., bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker, roundtail chub) were represented. Flannelmouth suckers were abundant and ready to spawn. Ongoing monitoring by the state and Dolores River Adaptive Management Support team will help to understand how this big water year affected the abundant ecology on the Dolores.

There is so much happening in Dolores Country this summer and the river season perfectly highlighted what a healthy and connected watershed can provide. The Senate subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining will hold a hearing on Thursday, July 12 that will include the Dolores River National Conservation and Special Management Area Act, introduced by Colorado Senators, Micheal Bennet and John Hickenlooper. Follow this link to support this effort and other very important wild and scenic river protections. The bill would protect the Ponderosa Gorge section of the lower Dolores from new dams that would impact things like native fish and recreation. This legislation goes a long way in highlighting the importance of the Dolores River landscape and the canyon country, but further protections are needed all the way to the Colorado state line near its confluence with the Colorado River. To support protections for the broader Dolores River Canyon Country follow along at and sign the petition.

American Whitewater

Hattie Johnson

Phone: 970-456-8533
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