Above-average snowpack in the Dolores Basin bodes well for McPhee Reservoir, farmers and recreational boaters on the Lower Dolores River.
Snotels in the basin show snowpack at 132 percent of the 30-year average as of Jan. 12, and more storms are on their way.
According to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, spring runoff into the Dolores River will fill McPhee and allow for whitewater boating release below the dam.
“Snowpack has record-setting potential already. We do feel comfortable that the reservoir will fill, and irrigators will get their full amount of water,” said Ken Curtis an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
The forecast center’s latest most probable runoff outlook shows 285,000 acre-feet inflow into McPhee to start the 2017 irrigation season. The fact that the reservoir ended last irrigation season with 143,400 acre-feet of active carryover storage, makes the situation favorable.
The potential total exceeds the benchmark of 270,000 acre-feet needed to fulfill water obligations for irrigators in Montezuma and Dolores counties, the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch operations, local municipal needs and the downstream fish pool.
With more storms to come, managers expect to fill the lake and also provide a whitewater boating release below the dam lasting up to a month or longer, reports Vern Harrell of the Bureau of Reclamation.
“We could have consistent 2,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) flows, which is the sweet spot for boating,” he said. “It could be a real good water year, which would set us up for next year too.”
“Don’t jinx it,” quipped an attendee at Thursday’s Dolores Water Conservancy meeting.
“What happens happens,” responded Don Schwindt, a member of the Dolores Water Conservancy board. “One shift of the jet stream, and everything could change.”
The multimillion-dollar upgrade for the Dolores Project’s numerous variable-speed pumps is under budget and nearly complete, Harrell said. The $600,000 savings is enough to replace 16 aging fixed-speed pumps as well.Access for lake boating will be more restricted beginning in 2017, as part of a plan to prevent contamination by invasive mussel species. But the plan for locked gates at boat ramps when mussel inspections stations are closed would strand boaters trying to get off the lake after hours. One possible solution being explored is to install spike strips that allow for boats to exit the lake, but which prevent launching motorized boats when inspection stations are closed.The district said they have negotiated a one-year delay to study a U.S. National Forest service proposal that would establish an instream flow on Rio Lado Creek, which joins the Dolores River at Hillside Drive.The forest’s pilot program wants to try using the state’s instream flow program to settle a long-standing lawsuit to secure sufficient environmental flows on forest streams. But the district said how optimum instream flows are determined is unconventional, and could set a precedent. What impacts it may have on water right holders, including for forest stock ponds, also needs to be determined.