Whitewater release announced for the Lower Dolores — The Cortez Journal

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiga):

Reservoir managers have announced a 10-day spill at an approximate rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second. However the plan is to begin the release the first weekend of June instead of over Memorial Day as forecasted last week.

“There will be a spill, and by pushing it forward we’re setting up the boaters for a longer season with improved rafting flows,” said Mike Preston, manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Warmer weather beyond the current five-day forecast could accelerate the start of the spill by a few days.

McPhee will fill and provide full farmer allocations, with an estimated left-over water for rafting.

Cooler, stormy weather and significant snowpack holding in the mountains forced managers to adjust the timing of the spill until the first weekend of June.

Reservoir managers are waiting on a second peak runoff from remaining snowpack.

Preston said the decision for the delay is to avoid the possibility two small spills and their associated ramp-up and ramp-down water needs. For safety, spills are gradually increased 200 cfs at a time, then reversed at the end of the controlled spill.

Releasing rafting flows for Memorial Day weekend was not seen as ideal for boaters because managers would have to stop it to allow the reservoir to fill. Then a second spill would likely be required to avoid overfilling the reservoir as the second peak finishes coming down.

“Delaying for one release saves ramping water to extend the season,” Preston said.

The benefits of a single combined spill of rafting flows allows for longer trips and less down-river congestion of boaters.

The district worked closely with the Dolores River Boating Advocates on the early June release decision.

“There has been definite improvement in communication between the reservoir managers and the boating community,” said DRBA board member Wade Hanson. “DWCD and the Bureau of Reclamation have been on the ball with timely public notice about a release.”

Boaters should be aware of some new changes on the Lower Dolores River.

The usual private land available for a public take-out/put-in at Slickrock is closed.

However, another landowner is negotiating with the DRBA to open public access point on land just downstream of the bridge at Slick Rock near the old store.

Farther down river, the BLM’s Big Gypsum Valley river access remains open.

Boaters should be especially alert this season on the Lower Dolores because it has not been floated for many years.

A large boulder fall has been reported in Ponderosa Gorge upstream of the Dove Creek pump house at mile 17, and debris flows and log jams are a real possibility.

Also expect campsites throughout the 100-mile section to Bedrock to be overgrown.

“It’s exciting to get on the Lower Dolores after all these years,” said Hanson said. “We will be taking a lot of pictures and GPS coordinates of the campsites to inform the public.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Whitewater seekers might get crack at Dolores River – The Durango Herald

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Durango Herald (Sue McMillin):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District announced on its website on Monday that recent heavy precipitation, including what’s in the forecast for this week, would likely fill McPhee Reservoir and allow for a boating release. If it happens, it would be the first since 2011.

The water district said that the precipitation combined with a cool, slow start to irrigation season has left the reservoir just 12 feet below full.

“A boating release will likely cover the Memorial Day weekend and last 5-10 days at 1,000 +/- CFS (cubic feet per second),” the website says.

The district says it will continue to keep boaters updated through the week.

The Dolores River was dammed in the late 1980s, which created McPhee Reservoir to ensure domestic water supply for Cortez and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and irrigation for more than 70,000 acres of otherwise arid land.

For the latest on the reservoir levels, visit http://www.doloreswater.com/releases.htm.

Dolores water district unveils $8 million in upgrades — The Cortez Journal

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain
La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Five automated, high-tech pumping stations do the heavy lifting of pulling water from canals and pushing it through pipes to farms. Another pump system at the Great Cut Dike pulls water from McPhee Reservoir into the Dove Creek Canal and onto the pumping stations.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have teamed up for $8 million worth of upgrades for the 20-year-old pumping stations.

The four-year plan includes upgrading the electronic communication control system, or SCADA, which operates irrigation deliveries from a main control room.

So far, three out of six pumping plants have been overhauled: Fairview, Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon. Next on the list are Dove Creek, Cahone, the Great Cut Dike and the SCADA system. Final upgrades will begin after irrigation seasons and be completed over the next two years.

Water officials and engineers touted the upgrades during a public tour Thursday at the Pleasant View pump station. At Ruin Canyon, two pumps were rebuilt, and two variable-speed electric motors were replaced. The electronic drive systems were also replaced.

The same upgrade occurred at the Ruin Canyon pump station, with a total cost for both upgrades of $1.25 million.

“They are more efficient, run cooler and require less maintenance,” said DWCD engineer Lloyd Johnson. “They will last another 20 to 25 years.”

The variable speed pumps adjust to irrigation demand. As the pressure fluctuates, the electronic drive system directs the pumps to adjust and keep the pressure steady. The drive system automatically turns on other static pumps as demand requires.

“We’re here to meet demand of the farmer,” said engineer Ken Curtis. “They pay high dollar for volume when they want it, and that is why we have a big crew of electricians and mechanics to ensure it is all working.”

The Bureau of Reclamation built the dams and reservoirs and pays to update them, said Brent Rhees, BOR’s regional director for the Upper Colorado River region.

He explained that a portion of power revenues generated from Glen Canyon dam and other BOR hydro-electric plants are set aside to pay for project upgrades like the one at the Dolores Project.

“These upgrades are satisfying to see because they keep us grounded in our mission to deliver water,” Rheese said. “The BOR has transitioned to resource management of existing projects.”

DWCD chipped in $1 million toward the project.

Forum explores new potential use of Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A documentary screening about the Dolores River was followed by a lively forum about the issue of low flows below McPhee Dam.

“River of Sorrows” was commissioned by the Dolores River Boating Advocates to highlight the plight of the Lower Dolores River.

The new film, which is for sale on the DRBA website for $10, had several showings April 30 at the Sunflower Theatre.

A panel answered questions from a moderator and from the audience. The panel included Josh Munson of the DRBA; Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District; Eric White of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch; Mike Japhet, a retired aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and Amber Clark, of the Dolores River Dialogue.

What are the major challenges facing the Dolores River and what are the solutions for addressing those challenges?

Munson said the challenge is for people to see there are beneficial uses to Dolores River water other than just farming, such as for fishery health and boating. Changing the water rights system to allow individuals to sell or lease their water allocation so it stays in the river is one solution.

“Other uses helps to diversify the economy,” he said.

Preston said a major challenge is managing the reservoir in drought conditions. He said the goal is maximizing efficiencies in order to improve carryover in the reservoir year to year.

“High storage lifts all boats, including for recreation,” he said.

White said the film missed the compromises the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has made regarding water rights.

“Our allocation has dropped,” he said. “The tribe has fought for our water rights for a long time.”

Japhet said low flows below the dam are threatening three native fish: the flannelhead sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“They have been declining precipitously,” he said.

Japhet called for more flexibility in how water reserved for fish and wildlife is managed out of McPhee. For example, 850 acre-feet diverted to the Simon Draw wetlands could be used to augment low flows on the Lower Dolores to help fish.

Clark said the big picture solution need to be collaborative and local, “or somebody from outside will find a solution for us.”

The group revealed the difficulty in finding a compromise that improves the downstream fishery and recreation boating but does not threaten the local agricultural economy.

“Use if or lose it water doctrine is a waste of water resources for farmers and conservationists,” Munson said. “The system does not allow for an individual to lease their water” for instream purposes.

Preston pointed out that in the last eight years, there has been four years where there was a release from the dam. The last one was in 2011, and this year a spill is uncertain.

“We are four for four. When we have excess water we release for boating and the fishery,” he said.
Japhet said the “elephant in the room” is if one of the three native fish species is petitioned for listing on the endangered species list.

“It would cause the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a very close look at what is going on with the water and fish resource,” he said. “The best solution is to be proactive and work something out locally to avoid a federal mandate telling us what to do.”

An audience member asked if the river itself has a right to water. Preston said the state instream flow program designates minimum flows for the river, including a 900 cfs below the confluence with the San Miguel. Below the dam the instream flow designation is 78 cfs.

“The river has a right to water, the fact that it was once wild should stay in people’s minds,” Munson replied. “The place itself has a beneficial use for fish, birds, otters. It’s recreation provides a way to make a living.”

Betty Ann Kohlner expressed concerns about McPhee water being used for hydraulic fracturing used for drilling natural gas.

Preston said about 4,000 acre-feet is available in McPhee for municipal and industrial purposes, including for fracking. But, he said, There has been limited use of the water for that purpose.

“If you can lease water to frack, why can’t water be leased for recreation and fish needs downstream from willing owners?” responded one man. “There is a contradiction in how we apply our understanding of how we should use water.”

Don Schwindt, of the DWCD board, pointed out that the Dolores River is part of the Colorado River compact that divides the state’s river water with several downstream states.

“Two thirds of the state’s water is required to leave by compact, and as it leaves it is available in the streams,” he said. “That two-thirds is more dominate than agricultural use.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Film: The River of Sorrow

I had the pleasure of viewing the new documentary “River of Sorrow” from the Dolores River Boating Associates yesterday at the eTown Hall in Boulder. The Colorado Water Trust hosted the event. River Network President Nicole Silk, CWT Executive Director Amy Beattie, and filmmaker Cody Perry introduced the film by detailing their personal experiences which led them to a life working with water.

In the film a farmer in Montezuma County detailed the necessity, from her point of view, for McPhee Reservoir. She acknowledged that she understood the motivation of those that want higher releases from the dam for recreation and the environment and the conflict it causes with the irrigators in the Montezuma Valley.

This is the main message: There are too many straws in the Dolores River, or as one person in the film, says, “Yeah, the Dolores River is very iconic, but it’s really a river no more.”

One of the highlights was the rare film footage of boatmen and enthusiasts from the heyday of boating in the years leading up to first fill. Even after first fill the boating survived until the diversion structures were built and started delivering water from the Dolores Project to the San Juan Basin.

The reservoir filled during a wet time and for a while there was a gold medal trout fishery below the dam. Then dryness hit the region (and is still around).

Now, organizations are attempting to reconcile competing views, learning that water rights are in control, and trying to find recreation and environmental water for the river.

Here’s a review from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A new documentary film on the Dolores River is to some degree a lament to a river lost, or at least transformed to a degree that it’s hardly recognizable to people with long memories.

“River of Sorrows: Inheriting Today’s Dolores River,” … documents the changes wrought on the river first by the construction of the dam at McPhee Reservoir near the town of Dolores in the 1980s, and then by drought.

While it’s a story about one waterway, it’s one that echoes in river canyons across the West that face challenges similar to the one on the Dolores when it comes to competing demands for scarce water supplies.

“You could say that the Dolores is the canary in the coal mine,” said filmmaker Cody Perry of Rig to Flip, a film production company based in Steamboat Springs. “You could say that the Dolores is potentially the future of every river in the Colorado River Basin in terms of if we have intentions to further develop every drop.”

The Dolores originates in the snowfields of the San Juan Mountains, heads southwest to Dolores and then north along the Colorado border to Gateway before crossing into Utah and its endpoint, the Colorado River.

Perry’s company contracted with the group Dolores River Boating Advocates to tell the river’s story, and particularly describe its life before and after McPhee Reservoir.

The reservoir project provided an important supply of water to agricultural users, as the film shows. But, except for in the wettest of years, it went far in decimating whitewater rafting on what was coming to be considered one of the nation’s best stretches of whitewater, below the reservoir. The river had been growing in renown for its rapids and pristine, slickrock-studded scenery.

For the first five years or so after the dam’s construction, the stretch below it did prove to be a prime trout fishery. But then drought hit, flows dropped below the dam to as little as 20 cubic feet per second, the water warmed and many fish died along the stretch of the river above its confluence with the San Miguel River in Montrose County.

The film quotes Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla about the passions boaters, anglers, farmers and others feel regarding the river, and the fact that each group feels threatened.

“But in reality everybody owns that river,” Suckla said.

From the farmers’ perspective, the fear is that they will get less water if more water is released downstream for the fish, he said.

“All the water is already allocated. There is no extra water that is available to send down the river,” Suckla says.

“It’s going to be hard to get this fixed,” he adds later.

The comment succinctly sums up the challenge faced by water managers and the competing interests when it comes to the Dolores, which got its name from the Spanish “El Rio de Nuestra Señora de Dolores,” meaning “The River of Our Lady of Sorrows.”

For whitewater enthusiasts, the film’s high point also is bittersweet. The filmmakers developed contacts with river guides who dug up film footage from the old days of the Dolores when the rapids sometimes raged, including in 1983, the epic spring runoff year when Lake Powell almost overflowed.

Immediately after showing this footage, the film cuts to the lower Dolores today below the dam, barely trickling with water. An unnamed voice provides narration.

“Yeah, the Dolores River is very iconic, but it’s really a river no more. It needs to be seen and supported and it needs to be a river again,” says the voice, which Perry said is that of Andy Hutchinson, a famed Grand Canyon river guide who serves on the board of Dolores River Boating Advocates.

Perry said the archival footage is both thrilling and a reminder of what’s been lost.

“There’s generations of kids who have no idea about this river, and we don’t have that piece of whitewater anymore. It’s a cultural loss, and the generations of people who ran it — there’s a massive gap to today’s river runners who have no idea that was down there,” he said.

He said he’s shown the film to schools, groups of so-called “water buffaloes” and others. He said he was surprised that water managers in particular thought it does a good job of describing the players and issues at hand.

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

While the film is sympathetic to boating and environmental interests, he said some more extreme environmentalists wish it was edgier. But he feels the film’s job was to educate more than advocate.

“Seven of 10 people in Colorado have never heard about this river, let alone the issues that are specific to it yet also common to other rivers,” he said.

Perry said he’s concerned about the future of agriculture, too. His hope that in the case of the Dolores River, agricultural, recreational and other interests can be willing to show more flexibility in their discussions with each other, and that legal tools can be provided for permanent transfer or long-term leasing of agricultural water for instream flows.

The various interests “need to stop digging in their heels and we have to start meeting each other halfway,” he said.

Go see the film then take in the sights of Four Corners and see the country and the Dolores River for yourself.

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Forecast calls for rafting on Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

McPhee Reservoir managers announced Friday that the forecast calls for a whitewater release below McPhee Dam.

“The forecast shows a 22-day whitewater season,” said Bureau of Reclamation engineer Vern Harrell. “But it is a 50-50 probability, so it is not guaranteed it will materialize.”

Based on this year’s impressive snowpack in the mountains, runoff forecasts show the reservoir will fill, and there will be 68,000 acre-feet available for a spill into the lower Dolores River.

Here is the plan if the snowpack holds:

On May 17, flows below the dam would be increased to 500 cubic feet per second. It would ramp up to 900 on May 18, then 1,300 cfs on May 19, and 1,500 cfs on May 20.

From May 21-25, the plan is to max out the flows at 2,000 cfs, then they will drop slightly to 1,800 cfs from May 26 to June 1 for the Memorial Day weekend.

On June 2 flows will be reduced to 1,400, cfs, drop 1,000 cfs on June 3, to 800 cfs on June 4 and 5, to 600 cfs on June 6 and 7, to 400 cfs for June 8 and 9, then 200 cfs for June 10 and 11.

Minimal rafting flows is 600-800 cfs, and for kayaks it is 300-400 cfs. Tubing could be done at 200 cfs.The boating community is excited, but cautious, said Josh Munson, vice president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates…

There has not been a whitewater release below the dam since 2011.

The surge of water into the lower canyon will benefit the natural environment, Munson said, and create an economic boon to the area as recreational boaters descend to the various launch sites.

CDPHE tags 105 miles of the Lower Dolores River as impaired

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Colorado has listed 105 miles of the Dolores River between Slick Rock and the Utah state line as an impaired waterway because of high water temperature from chronic low flows.

The Water Quality Control Commission of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment ruled on the river’s impairment status during a hearing in December.

The section on the Lower Dolores River is “considered impaired because the temperature was greater than standards adopted to protect aquatic life,” said Meghan Trubee, media relations official with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. “We’re mostly concerned about the fish and macro invertebrates.”

[…]

“Because the stream is listed as impaired, the division is responsible for developing a plan to address the temperature impairment known as total maximum daily load (TMDL),” Trubee said. “The segment will remain on the 303(d) list until a TMDL is developed and approved by the EPA.”

A year’s worth of temperature data from a water-quality station at Slick Rock showed the river went above the daily maximum temperature standard 10 times – five in September 2013 and five in June 2014.
The separate readings went above daily maximum standard for March to November of 28.6 Celsius, or 83 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Warmer water has less ability to hold dissolved oxygen, which fish need,” said Jim White, a fish biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The other reason is that higher base flows in the summer would create more habitat for growing invertebrates, the food relied on by native fish.”

The impaired section is below McPhee dam and reservoir and has not had a recreational whitewater release since 2011.

Water allocated for fish habitat, about 31,796 acre-feet, is held in McPhee reservoir and released throughout every year. In the winter, flows below the dam are 20-30 cfs. During summer, they reach 60-80 cfs if there is no whitewater release.

A series of low snowpack years have left the reservoir below full and only able to supply irrigation demands. A whitewater release occurs when there is more runoff than the reservoir can hold.

The Dolores Water Conservancy objected to the lower Dolores impairment listing, but wasn’t successful