The whitewater boating season has begun on the Dolores River.
Flows on the Upper Dolores River above McPhee Reservoir were at 1,000 cubic feet per second as of Sunday.
Below McPhee Dam, a 60-day whitewater release is planned, with initial ramp-up of 400 cfs per day starting April 11. By April 16, rafting flows will reach 2,000 cfs and stay there for 30 days.
In the third week of May, managers will release flushing flows of 4,000 cfs for several days to provide ecological benefits to the river. The high flows mimic a natural spring hydrograph and benefit the river by scouring the channel, redistributing cobbles for fish spawning and improving pool habitat for native fish species. Floodplain inundation also helps generate native vegetation growth by spreading seeds beyond the main channel.
After the spike in flows, the river will return to 2,000 cfs for the Memorial Day weekend, with ramp-down of 400 cfs per day expected in early June.
Bedrock bridge presents a hazard Boaters are being warned of new bridge construction a mile downstream of the Bedrock takeout.
The short section of river between Bedrock and the new bridge may have to be temporarily closed for short periods of time to allow for final construction.
While the bridge is finished, there won’t be enough headroom for boaters to safely pass underneath, said Ed Archuleta, of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Spotters will warn boaters of the bridge construction and signs along the river will also be posted, he said.
Natural flows at Slick Rock CanyonEven without the dam release, low-elevation snowmelt has already boosted river flows on the Slick Rock to Bedrock section to 600 cfs and higher, enough for a canoe, kayak or small raft. The popular 50-mile section features Class II and Class III rapids in remote red-rock canyon country.
The Dolores River Boating Advocates and American Whitewater will distribute information about a web-based river survey at boater put-ins and take-outs. An upgraded campground map will be available as well.
At least one of the private river-access points at Slick Rock will be open to the public for a fee. Boaters must keep dogs leashed.
For public lands access, the Bureau of Land Management runs a campground and river-access point at the Gypsum Valley Recreation site, 14 miles down river or 25 road miles from Slick Rock.
From the Slick Rock bridge continue east on Colorado Highway 141 for 12 miles to graveled County Road 20 R. Turn left (west) and proceed 13 miles down 20 R to the Gypsum Valley Recreation Site. Facilities include a launch ramp, parking, picnic tables, grills and shelters. Camping is allowed.
Boater dreams fulfilledThe main Lower Dolores River boating run stretches for 100 miles through winding, red-rock canyons interspersed with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV, including the famed Snaggletooth Rapid at mile marker 27. The Lower Dolores River is considered one of the premiere multi-day boat trips in the nation when it has enough water to run. No permit is required.
In the past, when there was a whitewater release, McPhee Reservoir managers targeted 800 cfs for as long as possible below McPhee Dam. But after hearing from boaters in the past few years, the release level was adjusted to the preferred 2,000 cfs flow whenever possible.
“The water managers have made a huge effort to listen to the boating community,” said Sam Carter of the Dolores River Boating Advocates.
For updates on the whitewater release schedule, go to http://doloreswater.com/releases. The next update will be April 5. Once the spill begins, regular updates will occur on Mondays and Thursdays.