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Dolores River Releases to Begin This Weekend

Posted: 04/26/2023
By: Hattie Johnson

Due to unprecedented snowpack, especially at low elevations, in the Dolores River basin, McPhee reservoir is filling more quickly than anyone predicted and will begin downstream releases starting this weekend. Natural flows from tributaries downstream of the dam have provided boatable flows since about April 10th. To maximize the potential for channel maintaining flows, the Dolores Spill Team has decided that an earlier release could provide flows to meet ecological targets while providing boating opportunities. Releases will begin Friday and reach 1200 cfs by Saturday April 29th. Please read the full release schedule below and at the Dolores Water Conservancy District’s website


Please note the current closure of the Dove Creek Pump Station road. The county is currently working to reopen the road and we will provide and update once work is completed. Releases from the reservoir have not taken place since 2019 due to extremely low water. Please keep the following in mind as you enjoy a river trip through this incredible canyon country: follow all BLM river use regulations (groovers, pet waste, fire pans, camping on durable surfaces); use is expected to be very high, plan trips in accordance and recognize finding camps could be difficult; do not impact undisturbed, sensitive or cultural sites to camp; vegetation within and along the channel has grown significantly since flows were last boatable, be careful and pay attention while boating. We are likely in for a long season on the Dolores so take care and get out there!


From the DWCD website:


As a result of the substantial early runoff resulting from the record amount of low-elevation snowpack, McPhee is rising over a foot a day, and has reached an elevation of 6901 feet, leaving only about 90,000 acre-feet of storage remaining until full. With the majority of the upper basin snowpack remaining and some warming expected this weekend with continued higher inflow volumes, DWCD and the USBR has decided to begin the managed release this week. The earlier release also provides an important opportunity to take advantage of existing downstream flows to target channel maintenance, native fish habitat, and ecological goals set for 2023.

McPhee is currently releasing approximately 75 CFS for the downstream fishery. Starting this Friday, April 28th, releases will begin ramping up to reach 1,200 CFS on April 30th. Flows are planned to remain at 1,200 CFS through May 5th, when they are expected to increase again, likely reaching around 3,000 CFS. The high runoff from low snowmelt is the primary factor guiding this early start, and it is difficult to predict how much will come down this weekend. If inflows come in faster than current predictions, there is the possibility that releases may increase above 1,200 CFS sooner than May 5th.

For planning purposes at this stage, the spill looks like it could last more than 4 weeks, though the length and volume of the spill remain unknown. The first half of the spill will have more certainty than the second.

Notice: The Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores River Boating Advocates will co-host a public meeting on the spill at the Dolores Community Center at 6:00 PM on Thursday May 4th.

Notice: The county road to the Dove Creek pumps turnout is still undergoing maintenance after the flooding last week, and is not currently accessible for recreation.

As usual, we will continue to monitor conditions and will update this page as McPhee fills and the season develops.

Image Credit: Rig to Flip

American Whitewater

Hattie Johnson

Phone: 970-456-8533
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