Before reading any further, knock on wood.
Based on current snowpack levels in the Dolores Basin, McPhee Reservoir will fill enough to meet full water allocations for area farmers, managers report.
Current reservoir levels, combined with forecasted runoff between April and July 31, will generate 270,000 acre-feet of water, enough to fulfill water contracts.
“With the amount of snow, we are comfortable we will meet the full allocation,” said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “The next question is will we be able to fill the reservoir and if there will be excess water to release for boating.”
A wet spring and early summer kept irrigation demand low, and contributed to healthy reservoir levels, in particular, 95,000 acre-feet of carryover going into winter.
The positive outlook stems from Snotel sites in the Dolores Basin reading at a combined 150 percent of the median as of Feb. 3.
Boating release promising
If the parade of snowstorms continues, the likelihood of a boating season on the Lower Dolores improves. Snowpack conditions are shaping up to be comparable to 2008 and 2009, years when there was a substantial whitewater release from McPhee dam. The last whitewater release was in 2011.
While, kayakers, rafters and canoeists dream of a coveted run through Snaggletooth Rapid and Slickrock Canyon, the native fish are set up for improved flows as well.
The managed release downstream includes a timed increase in flows to “suppress the spawn.”
The roundtail chub, flannel mouth sucker and bluehead sucker are all native fish of the Lower Dolores River. They are cued to spawn based on an increase in water temperatures, which can happen as early as March.
Water managers increase releases to suppress water temperatures in March, April and May to delay spawning until after a managed whitewater release. A sudden rush of water during spawn is unnatural, and decreases survival of young fish.
The potential slow increase in flows in March has historically been enough to float a kayak or canoe early.