POSTED BY ERIC SPRAGUE ON MAY 2, 2023
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: Dolores County has completed repairs on the road to the Dove Creek pumps takeout, which is now accessible for recreation.
Notice: If you intend to spend time on the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir, please read this entire post. We’ll be updating here twice weekly, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and this is the best source of information on downstream releases from McPhee. At the bottom of this post are some links to flow data sources and recreational organizations including Dolores River Boating Advocates and American Whitewater. These organizations can tell you more about what to expect floating the Dolores downstream of McPhee.
High early runoff is still filling McPhee at a rate of more than 1 ft/day. McPhee has reached a water surface elevation of 6913.9 feet, leaving only about 43,000 acre-feet of storage remaining until full. With inflows coming in higher than expected and most of the upper snowpack remaining, this means releases from McPhee must increase early in reaction.
McPhee is currently releasing approximately 1,200 CFS. Starting this evening, May 2nd, releases will begin ramping up to reach 2,200 CFS by mid-day tomorrow. Flows will remain at 2,200 CFS until early morning on Thursday May 4th, when they will begin ramping up to reach 3,400 CFS on May 5th. Releases will remain at 3,400 CFS until further notice, likely extending through the week of May 8th.
As always, there is uncertainty in the forecasted inflows; if the reservoir rises faster than current predictions, there is the possibility that releases will increase to control reservoir elevation, possibly to around 4,000 CFS. With the reservoir approaching full, operators must balance outflows with inflows to minimize reservoir gains, and so lose some discretion in regards to release rates. This is especially true this year, when low snowmelt has filled the reservoir weeks earlier than predicted. If recreating on the river, be aware that releases below McPhee can change at any time, though operators will endeavor to minimize unannounced changes.
For planning purposes at this stage, the spill looks like it could last more than 4 weeks. At this time, raftable flows (1,200 CFS or more) are expected to continue through Memorial Day weekend. Be aware, this is just a forecast, and the true length and volume of the spill remain unknown. The first half of the spill will have more certainty than the second half.
As usual, we will continue to monitor conditions and will update this page as the spill progresses.
The following is a message from Dolores River Boating Advocates:
As releases from McPhee exceed 3,000 cfs, the water becomes swift with limited eddys. It is important to be aware of your location on the river, especially if navigating through Snaggletooth or the rapids below Gateway. Camps will become inundated in some cases, and in others hard to catch or overgrown.
Potential hazards include bridges (notably a county road bridge below the Slick Rock takeout, a country road bridge a few miles below the Big Gypsum boat ramp, and the highway 141 bridge in Gateway.) Additionally, as the river rises, logs and wood will become mobilized and possibly create strainers and hazards. Further, in some areas, the channel may be braided, and it is important to be alert and aware of various options.
As flows increase or decrease, be sure to be aware of fluctuations and tie your boats up appropriately. Always bring necessary safety gear, and required equipment including a groover and firepan.
For more details on the current official forecast, go to https://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/wsup/graph/front/espplot_dg.html?year=2023&id=MPHC2
Dolores Gage: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?09166500
McPhee Elevation & Capacity: https://dwr.state.co.us/surfacewater/data/detail_tabular.aspx?ID=MCPRESCO&MTYPE=STORAGE
Dolores below McPhee: https://dwr.state.co.us/surfacewater/data/detail_graph.aspx?ID=DOLBMCCO&MTYPE=DISCHRG
Slickrock Gage: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?09168730
Bedrock Gage: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?09171100
Bureau of Land Management: https://www.blm.gov/visit/dolores-river-srma
The BLM has a detailed boating map of the Dolores river posted on their website. Link below.
BLM Avenza Map page for the Dolores: https://www.blm.gov/documents/colorado/public-room/map/colorado-dolores-river-100k-boating-map-17×40
The following are links to the American Whitewater River Inventory pages for the lower Dolores River: