Deluge extends irrigation, boating season

Recent rains have bumped up the region to 104 percent of normal precipitation for the year, recharging the Dolores and extending the irrigation and boating season.

But the area has a long way to go to recover from a 15-year drought.

The Dolores River above McPhee Reservoir reached more than 500 cubic feet per second on Aug. 27, dropping to 300 cfs the next day.

Since Aug. 30, rains in the mountains have pushed the river above 200 cfs three times for a few hours, and then the levels drop to the mid 100s cfs range.

That extra water is helping storage in the reservoir, but it is not filling it, said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy.

"The rate of reduction in storage is not as much with all the recent rains," he said.

"In a 24-hour period on Sept. 2, the river brought in 162 cfs, and 347 cfs were delivered to irrigators so it is a net reduction in storage."

This season, full-service irrigators only received 25 percent of their normal amount of water.

Late-season rains are benefiting the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company more. MVIC has senior rights on the Dolores and owns flows up to 800 cfs - water that is stored in Narraguinnep Reservoir or McPhee, or delivered to irrigators on various canals.

MVIC extended its season to Sept. 10 because of the recent rains. Cutoff was initially set for Sept. 3.

The Towaoc Highline Canal can deliver water later into the season because it is gravity fed and can access water at lower lake levels. The Dove Creek canal is shut off at lower lake levels because the pumps cannot reach the water.

"We make relative gains when the river is up and demand from irrigators goes down," Preston said. "Right now MVIC is getting the water credit."

Jim Andrus, a meteorologist and local observer for the National Weather Service reports August rainfall at 3.69 inches of rain, putting the area at 104 percent of normal year to date for precipitation.

Normal August precipitation is 1.37 inches.

"It is the first time we have been above normal in 6 months," he said. "But we have a lot of ground to make up."

The drought is not over because of two short-term rain events, he said. A NWS 90 day outlook shows a dry pattern for the Four Corners, he added, but the forecast also showed August to be dry.

Just to the south in western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, long-term predictions are for a wetter-than-normal autumn.

The increased flows on the Dolores prompted boaters to rush out and enjoy the river, said Tom Wolfe, of Soft Adventures Rafting.

"It was up to 600 cfs and stayed at a boating level for a few days," Wolfe said.

Boaters need to be aware that cattle fences across the river during the low water season can cause a hazard when the river surges to levels adequate for boating.

A fence near the big bend several miles upstream of Dolores was unhooked and carefully placed on the south bank by the first boater through, allowing safe passage for later rafters Wolfe said.

"It is something to watch for, and puts boaters under some duress, but people were able to get down," he said.