#Runoff news: Big McPhee spill this season into the Dolores River

Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit RiverSearch.com.

From The Durango Herald editorial board:

This year’s spill from McPhee Reservoir will be lengthy. Snowfall was particularly good this year. But a steady release is not what appeals to boaters. Better to vary the flow from high to medium levels to give river runners different experiences in the canyon…

A big Dolores spill does not occur often (the most recent of any size was in 2008), thus there are good reasons for making the most of it this year. Expect the river, ecology and terrain to be subjected to its dynamism.

Sediment movement with different flows is important as the river adjusts its pools and eddies while refreshing itself. And to what degree an underground aquifer will replenish depends on higher flows.

While Southwest Colorado will enjoy making the most of the Dolores, there are plenty of uncertainties about how to fund other water projects needed for a state population expected to double by 2050 (requiring an estimated 560,000 acre feet of water).

Both conservation and more efficient water uses are in the equation, but project funding is elusive. Severance taxes provide the bulk of the funding for the Department of Natural Resources, but energy extraction is not providing a predictable revenue source.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross:

Flows on the Yampa River this week more closely resembled conditions typical of mid-July than mid-April, and federal scientists who keep an eye on the entire Colorado River Basin are now predicting that flows in the river, which runs through the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs, will trend below average through mid-summer.

“The headwaters of the Colorado River main stem and the San Juan Basin are currently forecast to receive near average runoff volumes, while the Yampa and White river basins now have forecasts for below average April-July runoff volumes,” hydrologists at the Colorado Basin River Forecast in Salt Lake City predict.

The Yampa was flowing at 309 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Fifth Street Bridge in downtown Steamboat Springs at midday on April 13. That’s below the median for the date of 440 cfs. But this isn’t likely to be a replay of 2012 when the river peaked unusually early for the season at 1,570 cfs on April 27.

There is still 38 inches of snow on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Based on weather forecasts, the River Forecast Center expects the Yampa in Steamboat to spike to just over 400 cfs Friday, April 14 in the wake of temperatures pushing 70 degrees on Thursday, then retreat to below 230 cfs by April 21.

It’s a different story on the Elk River, which flows into the Yampa west of Steamboat. Contrary to the trend on the Yampa, the Elk was flowing well above average Thursday at 1,080 cfs, compared to the median 641 cfs…

The historic average peak flow for the Yampa is 3,070 cfs at the Fifth Street Bridge. The river peaked at 3,550 cfs on May 5, 2015, and at 3,430 cfs on June 9, 2016.

One of the heaviest runoffs this decade was in 2011, when the river peaked at 5,200 cfs on June 7. The highest recorded peak flow was 6,820 cfs on June 14, 1921, in an era when there were fewer dams upstream from Steamboat.

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