#Runoff news: Melting #snowpack = start of whitewater season on the Dolores River, 2,000 cfs McPhee release planned this season

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

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Flows on the upper Dolores River above McPhee Reservoir were at 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) as of Sunday.

Below McPhee Dam, a 60-day whitewater release is planned, with initial ramp-up of 400 cfs per day starting on April 11. By April 16, rafting flows will reach 2,000 cfs, and stay there for 30 days.

In the third week of May, managers will release flushing flows of 4,000 cfs for several days to provide ecological benefits to the river. The high flows mimic a natural spring hydrograph, and benefit the river by scouring the channel, redistributing cobbles for fish spawning and improving pool habitat for native fish species. Flood-plain inundation also helps generate native vegetation growth by spreading seeds beyond the main channel.

After the spike in flows, the river will return to 2,000 cfs for the Memorial Day weekend, with ramp-down of 400 cfs per day expected in early June…

Natural flows at Slick Rock Canyon
Even without the dam release, low-elevation snowmelt has already boosted river flows on the Slick Rock to Bedrock section to 600 cfs and higher, enough for a canoe, kayak or small raft. The popular 50-mile section features Class II and III rapids in remote red-rock canyon country…

The main Lower Dolores River boating run stretches for 100 miles through winding, red-rock canyons interspersed with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV, including the famed Snaggletooth Rapid at mile marker 27. The Lower Dolores River is considered one of the premiere multiday boat trips in the nation when it has enough water to run. No permit is required.

In the past, when there was a whitewater release, McPhee Reservoir managers targeted 800 cfs for as long as possible below McPhee Dam. But after hearing from boaters in the past few years, the release level was adjusted to the preferred 2,000 cfs flow whenever possible.

“The water managers have made a huge effort to listen to the boating community,” said Sam Carter, of the Dolores River Boating Advocates.

For updates on the whitewater release schedule, go to http://doloreswater.com/releases/ The next update will be April 5. Once the spill begins, regular updates will occur on Mondays and Thursdays.

Dolores River Canyon near Paradox

Meanwhile, the higher flows are an opportunity for scientists to study river ecology. Here’s a report from Jim Mimiaga writing for The Cortez Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Biologists with Colorado Parks and Wildlife will do fish counts on native and non-native populations, and conduct habitat improvement measures.

The Nature Conservancy, Fort Lewis College and American Whitewater will be studying geomorphology, benefits of flushing flows and recreational boating conditions…

“We have a lot of opportunity this year for fish sampling and monitoring,” said Jim White, a fish biologist for Parks and Wildlife, during a presentation Thursday at the Dolores Water Conservancy office.

His team will be studying population health of three native fish in the Lower Dolores: the roundtail chub, flannelmouth sucker and bluehead sucker.

One of their objectives is to measure the non-native small-mouth bass population, then work toward reducing them. Small-mouth bass are a threat to native fish, preying on their young and competing for food sources.

“We want to find out how widespread small-mouth bass are, especially if they are established in Slick Rock Canyon,” White said.

The bass have developed a stronghold upstream from Slick Rock Canyon to Snaggletooth Rapid. But the high runoff year has opened up an opportunity to try and take out small-mouth bass, White said. In mid-July, Parks and Wildlife plans a flush of 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) for 3-4 days from its fish pool reserves within McPhee Reservoir to disrupt the small-mouth bass spawn…

Parks and Wildlife manages a 32,000 acre feet “fish pool” in McPhee Reservoir for minimum base flows releases below the dam.

During a whitewater release, the fish pool is not debited, White said, giving fish biologists more flexibility in how to use it. They will tap into 2,600 acre feet of the reserve for the bass-removal flush.

Channel scour
The Nature Conservancy is sending a team of researchers to the Lower Dolores for 10-15 days, said Colorado chapter representative Celine Hawkins.

Their work plan includes studying sediment transport and flood-plain inundation, which is needed to widely distribute native seeds. They are especially interested in the impact 4,000 cfs peak flows will have on scouring the river channel…

The Nature Conservancy will be using drones to take aerial photos of the Lower Dolores before and after peak flows to track changes and compare them to past years.

They are focusing monitoring efforts at Disappointment Creek, Dove Creek Pumps, Big Gypsum Valley and Bedrock.

Students at Fort Lewis College will be conducting ecological monitoring on the river as well, including on the alluvial groundwater aquifer…

2016 study results on Lower Dolores
Colorado Parks and Wildlife shared results of a 2016 fish study on the Dolores River.

A cold-water fishery sampling below the dam showed two-thirds brown trout and 16 percent rainbow trout.

Algae due to infrequent flushing flows is abundant in the 12 miles of stream immediately below the dam. There is a concern it could have a negative impact on fish.

In June, the 20-mile Ponderosa Gorge section (Bradfield Bridge to Dove Creek pump house) was surveyed. Of the 180 fish caught, 73 percent were brown trout, and roundtail chub was the second-most abundant. No small-mouth bass were found in the gorge.

Sampling at the Dove Creek pump station showed roundtail chub were holding steady, in part because they are an adapted pool species. Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers were in relative low abundance, and depend more on a ripple environment. In 1992, fish sampling showed much higher numbers of native fish species, the study noted.

“The impact of flushing flows in (2016) was evident, and backwaters looked cleaner,” according to study results.

The past two years, Parks and Wildlife has been stocking bluehead suckers in the Lower Dolores. The fish historically relied on Plateau, Beaver and House creeks for spawning areas, but the dam and reservoir altered the river so suckers cannot reach those ephemeral streams. In 2016, 4316 bluehead fingerlings were released downstream of the Dove Creek Pump house. In 2013, a pit-tag array recorded one flannelmouth traveled 264 miles.

Dolores River watershed

Non-motorized boats will be allowed on Narraguinnep Reservoir

Narraguinnep Reservoir. Photo credit Andreas Hitzig.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. on Tuesday retreated from its boating ban at Narraguinnep Reservoir and agreed to allow some hand-launched, non-motorized watercraft.

The revised ban still includes motorized and trailered boats, including jet skis. Such watercraft can carry water from infected lakes in the engines, bilges and ballasts, according to the MVIC.

The specific list of nine non-motorized boats that are allowed on the lake include kayaks, canoes, rafts, belly boats, windsurfer boards, sailboards, float tubes, inner tubes and paddle boards.

“The board is in agreement on allowing those crafts,” Gerald Koppenhafer, president of the MVIC board, said on Tuesday.

Totten Lake, which is owned by the Dolores Water Conservancy District, also recently banned boating, but is also expected to allow the specific list of non-motorized boats, general manager Mike Preston said on Tuesday.

“The intention of our board is to be consistent with MVI and allow the exempted watercraft,” he said…

The boating ban triggered an outcry from the boating community, and generated complaints to the Montezuma county commission. Dozens of comments for and against the policy were posted on The Journal’s Facebook page.

McPhee Reservoir allows all types of boating, but trailered and motorized watercraft can only enter the lake through two boat inspection stations at the McPhee boat ramp and the House Creek boat ramp. The list of nine, hand-launched boats can launch from anywhere. Funding is available for boat inspection stations at McPhee but not other area lakes.

Irrigation companies and lake managers are trying to prevent the invasive mussel from entering Colorado waterways. Once a lake becomes contaminated with the mussels, they cannot be eliminated and cause damage to irrigation infrastructure, including dams, municipal systems and power plants. Mitigating a mussel contamination year-to-year also dramatically increases operation costs.

A decision is pending on how to prevent a mussel contamination at Groundhog Reservoir, which also is owned by MVIC.

Boating halted at Totten Reservoir, prevention of quagga and zebra infestation cited

Zebra and Quagga Mussels

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District board voted unanimously on Thursday to close Totten Lake to all boating to prevent contamination by non-native quagga and zebra mussels…

The Totten closure follows a boating ban on Narraguinnep Reservoir, enacted last week by the privately owned Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which also cited the mussel threat.

“To prevent a mussel contamination, and to be consistent with MVIC’s decision, the board voted to prohibit all boating on Totten,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston.

The boating ban on the two lakes is for all non-motorized and motorized, and includes kayaks, canoes, stand-up boards, windsurfers, oar boats, rafts and jet-skis. Fishing at the popular lake will be allowed from the shore.

“There was a lot of debate on our board about possible exceptions, but the board decided that to be clear, and best protect our irrigators, the ban will be to all boating,” said MVIC manager Brandon Johnson.

A boating closure order for Totten is being drawn up in cooperation with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which manages the fishery. A locked gate on the boat ramp will be installed soon. Narraguinnep already has a locked gate installed. Violators at Totten and Narraguinnep will be issued tickets by Parks and Wildlife and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.

Boat inspection stations are effective at preventing a mussel contamination in lakes. But there is no funding for inspection stations at Totten or Narraguinnep, so managers say their only other option is to close them to boating because the contamination risk is too great.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District is also tightening up boating access on McPhee this year to better prevent the mussels from entering the regional irrigation reservoir.

Boating is still allowed at McPhee because there is funding for boat inspections. But access for motorized and trailered watercraft is only allowed during the season through two boat inspection stations at the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps.

When the stations are closed, newly installed locked gates will prevent lake access. In the past, boats could still launch when the inspection stations were closed.

To accommodate boaters who return to the ramps after the boat stations are locked, one-way spike strips will be installed this season to allow boaters to exit the lake after hours.

“We made that concession to prevent boaters from becoming stranded on the lake,” said McPhee engineer Ken Curtis.

McPhee managers adopted the state standard for preventing the mussel that requires trailered and motorized boats to be inspected, but allows non-motorized, hand-launched craft to enter the lake anywhere without inspection.

In general, non-motorized kayaks, canoes, rowboats, stand-up boards, and windsurfers pose less of a risk or contaminating a waterway with mussels.

However, mussels on a boat from an infected lake can be transported to another waterway.

All boats and their motors should be cleaned, drained and dried before entering a waterway and after leaving a waterway.

MVIC also owns Groundhog Reservoir, and is considering closing it to boating. A decision is expected soon.

Boating halted at Narraguinnep Reservoir to prevent quagga infestation

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

From The Durango Herald (Jim Mimiaga):

The permanent boating ban went into effect Tuesday, said Brandon Johnson, general manager of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which owns the reservoir.

“We can’t afford to get the mussel in there because of the damage they cause to our infrastructure,” he said. “We had to take drastic action against this threat because we’re in the irrigation business, not the recreation business.”

Mussels from infected lakes, including Lake Powell, can travel in standing water of boats and contaminate other lakes, clogging pipes, valves and canals.

“If they get in there, we can’t deliver water to our stockholders, costs will increase to mitigate them, and they will get into side rolls and pipes,” Johnson said.

The Narraguinnep ban is for all boats, motorized and non-motorized, and includes jet skis, fishing boats, row boats, kayaks and canoes. Colorado Parks and Wildlife would enforce the ban and issue tickets.

Whether paddle boards and windsurfing would be allowed is not clear. “The board decided on a boating ban,” Johnson said. “Whether those two are boats is up to the enforcement agencies.”

MVIC also owns Groundhog Reservoir and is evaluating whether it will close that lake to boating, Johnson said.

Boating could possibly continue at Narraguinnep if there were a boat inspection program, he said, but the irrigation company cannot afford it.

“Recreation is the responsibility of Colorado Parks and Wildlife,” Johnson said.

Parks and Wildlife operates local boat inspection programs, including for McPhee Reservoir, to check for the mussel and decontaminate boats.

But CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said the agency does not have the funding to add more boat inspection programs.

“We’re scrambling for funding for the lakes where we do have inspection stations. They are costly to operate,” he said…

McPhee Reservoir is also restricting access to the lake beginning this year to prevent a mussel contamination. Boat ramps at McPhee and House Creek will be gated, and trailered boats can launch only when boat inspection stations are open.

The McPhee boating restriction does not include hand-launched, non-motorized boats such as canoes, kayaks, rafts, windsurfers and paddle boards. Non-motorized, hand-launched boats are free to launch anytime from anywhere on McPhee. However, all boat owners should make sure to clean, drain and dry all boats before and after entering any waterway to avoid invasive species contamination.

Dolores River: #Snowpack = 3 month rafting release?

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

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The most probable runoff forecast shows inflow of 440,000 acre-feet for April through July, enough to fill McPhee Reservoir and provide more than a three-month rafting release below the dam.

“Operations this spring are lining up to be exciting,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “The March forecast is typically not as accurate as the forecast that will come later, but it is good as a planning tool.”

The predicted runoff will fill the reservoir for farmers, with 270,000 acre feet potentially available for whitewater release below the dam. That is enough for an estimated 116-day boating season for approximately 100 miles between the Bradfield Bridge and Bedrock.

By comparison, in 2016, only about 30,000 acre-feet was available for a whitewater release below McPhee Dam, which generated about 10 days of boating flows.

Should the current forecast hold, operators will be able to provide releases of 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) and greater for about 67 days, with flows greater than 2,000 cfs for 45 days, and peak flows of 4,000 cfs for four days. Several ecological benefits also will be realized from a release of that magnitude.

The data in the March 1 operating plan is provisional and subject to change because of Dolores River inflow, future precipitation, weather patterns, managed release criteria and use.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District will be the primary source of information pertaining to release schedules and updates this spring. It will have a newly remodeled website at doloreswater.com.

Last year, the whitewater release lasted about 10 days and only peaked at 1,000 cfs. Before that, there had not been a release since 2011 because of drought conditions and low snowpack.

The main Lower Dolores River boating run stretches for 100 miles through winding, red-rock canyons interspersed with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV. It is considered one of the premiere multiday boat trips in the nation when it has enough water to run. No permit is required.

#Snowpack news: McPhee Reservoir boating release likely this season

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

From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):

The livestock association held its annual meeting at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal officials also spoke at the event, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.

[Ken Curtis] said there is about 300,000 acre-feet of water in the snowpack for the McPhee Reservoir basin. However, but the reservoir will only be able to store about 90,000 additional acre-feet, he said.

“We’re going to get a chance to do a lot of active management,” Curtis said.

With water levels looking good, a recreation spill downriver is likely, but it’s still early, he said. Water officials will have to work hard to manage the above-average snowpack levels this season, he said.

Curtis also discussed the issue of mussels in waterways. The invasive quagga and zebra mussels have infiltrated the Great Lakes and are slowly making their way across the West, he said. Colorado has avoided an infestation, but they have appeared as close as Lake Powell, he said.

If mussels get into waterways on the Western Slope, they could cause costly damage to water infrastructure, such as dams and irrigation equipment, Curtis said.

Recreational boat inspections have been taking place on McPhee Reservoir and House Creek, but funding has decreased for inspections in recent years, he said. Hopefully funding will stabilize soon for the inspections, Curtis said, but in the meantime, access may be limited to recreational areas in 2017.

“We need to raise the insurance one level higher,” Curtis said. “We’re going to close lake access when the inspections aren’t happening.”

McPhee should be open seven days a week, but House Creek will probably only be open four days a week, he said.

Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which owns Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs, has also considered closing boat access to both those lakes because of the mussel risk.

The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy District are raising money to continue boat inspections at McPhee and House Creek, he said.

The boat inspection program costs about $95,000 per year, and the Forest Service previously covered that cost, Curtis said.

No mussels have been found on boats during inspections at McPhee, but they have been found as close as Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, Curtis said.

Report: Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy — Mountain Studies Institute

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

“Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy,” is an extensive three-year analysis done in cooperation with the Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton.

The study used 72 climate models to tease out potential impacts to 46 trout streams in the basin from the town of Dolores to Lizard Head Pass up to the year 2100.

“We know there will be change, the question the study addresses is what kind of change can we expect, the approximate timing, and what are the impacts,” said Duncan Rose, director of the Dolores River Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited.

When climate scientists ran the models over time, they pointed toward a “feast and famine” scenario, where wet periods with higher temperatures are followed by longer, more intense droughts.

According to the study, between 1949 and 2012, the upper Dolores watershed experienced wet periods with increasingly higher temperatures, followed by dry periods that were longer and more intense.

“We see that pattern developing where each drought gets more intense, and the wetter periods have higher temperatures, which causes increased evaporation and overall net loss of moisture,” Rose said.

If cyclical drought conditions were like 2002, the worst in recent years, and lasted for many years, the result could mean an average of 44 percent reduction in stream flows throughout the upper basin in 50-70 years, according to the study. Low stream flows contribute to higher water temperatures, which if reach above 63 degrees, are detrimental to trout species.

“Trout have survived these cycles for millennia, but the climate conditions may be more intense than what we have seen, so we’re going to have more challenges, particularly on the lower elevation streams,” Rose said.

The study is intended to aid current and future managers of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Juan National Forest in sustaining good trout habitat in the basin.

For example, higher elevation streams will be less impacted by the climate predictions. Lower trout streams may be more or less a lost cause, with many perennial streams potentially becoming intermittent or drying up completely.

“That leaves the middle elevation band of streams, where mitigation and stream rehabilitation will do the most good,” Rose said. “It’s an adaptive management model, where we don’t rush in, take it a step at a time and invest limited resources with what climate pattern emerges.”

Protecting trout streams from higher temperatures and lower flows means improving shade, installing instream rocks and trees to create pools where fish can find refuge in lower flows and hot conditions. Streams like Roaring Fork, Scotch Creek, Kilpacker, Burnett, and higher-up stretches of the Dolores Main stem, plus others, would likely benefit the most from habitat improvement in the future.

More regulations may by on the horizon, as a result of the study’s projections, for example, lower bag limits, catch-and-release only rules, barbless hooks, and even rotating some streams into non-fishing status for a year to allow recovery.

The climate models indicate there will likely be a reduction in the 295 miles of trout streams in the upper Dolores Basin in the next 50 to 100 years. More of the fishing spots will be concentrated in the higher elevations, which would result in more people fishing in a smaller area.

“There will be more competition for fewer fish, but the good news it will not happen overnight,” Rose said. “We have time to adapt, as long as we are aware of the potential impacts.”

This summer, the Dolores chapter of Trout Unlimited will be installing eight temperature gages on various streams and rivers at different elevations to start monitoring changes and trends.

The Dolores River climate change study cost about $20,000 with $15,000 paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Other groups, including TU, Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Montezuma Land Conservancy contributed funds as well.

For a power point summary of the study go to bit.ly/Troutunlimited