Piñon Project provides kids with rafting opportunity

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

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

About a dozen kids from Montezuma and Dolores counties got to experience that adventure thanks to a partnership between the Piñon Project, Dolores River Boating Advocates and the Onward Foundation.

The May 20 trip down Ponderosa Gorge was organized for youth ages 9 to 17 in the Piñon Project mentoring program, and for many of them, it was a first…

Mild to Wild rafting gave the group a discount rate, and it was paid for thanks to a grant from the Onward Foundation.

The goal was to introduce kids to the thrill of rafting and show off the natural wonders of a river in their own backyard, said Amber Clark, program coordinator for the Dolores River Boating Advocates…

The daylong excursion coincided with Colorado’s First Public Lands Day.

A guided boating trip down the Lower Dolores was extra special, Lacourciere said, because a run depends on a water release from McPhee reservoir upstream.

Plus, it was an opportunity for kids to experience an outdoor activity that is often inaccessible for families because of the expense of the boating gear and required river skills.

#Runoff news: Boating season mostly over for the Dolores River

Mcphee Reservoir

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

By midnight May 23, flows will ramp down to 600 cubic feet per second, hold for 24 hours, then drop to 400 cfs after midnight on May 24. From there the river will drop to 200 cfs, then 75 cfs by Sunday May 28.

“Spring runoff forecasts have steadily dropped with the drier-than-normal weather,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “It is time to fill the reservoir.”

Curtis said there is a chance that early hot June weather could bring down the remaining snowpack very quickly, which could force a mini whitewater spill of boatable flows for four to six days in June…

A solid winter snowpack allowed for the reservoir to fill for farmers and provide for 52 days of whitewater boating below the dam. In mid-May, 4,000 cfs of flushing flows were released for 72 hours to benefit river ecology, including sediment clearing and channel scouring, which improves native fish habitat. There were seven days of optimal flow releases of around 2,000 cfs.

A year-in-review meeting is being planned by reservoir managers, boaters, and environmental groups to evaluate the season.

Bass flush
A plan by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to flush out small-mouth bass opens up a slight window for kayakable flows later in the summer.

In mid July, biologists want to use part of their reserved fish pool in McPhee reservoir to release 400 cfs for 3-4 days and disrupt the bass spawn. The bass are a threat to the flannelmouth and bluehead suckers and roundtail chub, preying on their young and competing for food sources.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: McPhee releases reach 4,000 cfs in the Dolores River

Photo via the Sheep Mountain Alliance

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Justin Criado):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation just finished a controlled, peak release from the McPhee Reservoir that reached 4,000 cubic feet per second over the past weekend. The ramp down began Sunday, starting at 800 cfs per day until Thursday, May 11.

“This is a really exciting time on the Dolores River because of a combination of high carry over storage in McPhee Reservoir and a good snowpack has resulted in a fairly large managed release from McPhee Reservoir,” said Celene Hawkins of the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “Every seven to 10 years it happens that we’ll have as much water in the system that we’ll have this year. It’s a really important opportunity to manage those flows for the ecology downstream of McPhee Dam.”

She added that 4,000 cfs is the fastest the river has flowed since 2005. As of Monday, the river was at about 3,400 cfs, she said.

As the nature conservancy’s Western Colorado Water Project Manager, Hawkins is monitoring the impacts of the release throughout the whole river system. She is also the co-chair of the Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendation Team, which aides the Dolores River Conservancy District.

“We’re doing a lot of monitoring around the release and particularly around this larger peak release to better understand what’s feasible within existing water supplies,” she said.”

Hawkins led a flyover tour of the Dolores River — from the McPhee Reservoir in Dolores to Bedrock in the West End of Montrose County — Monday afternoon. The LightHawk volunteer flight left from Durango’s Animas Air Park and was piloted by Jim Grady, who flew a pair of curious journalists around in his 1953, red-and-white Cessna 180.

Hawkins explained there are three monitoring sites: one in the Dove Creek region and two in the Slickrock area of the Gypsum Valley and near Bedrock. Monitoring includes analyzing the impacts the release has had on downstream ecology, including vegetation and animals. The monitoring isn’t a simple process, Hawkins said, as it will take multiple years to fully collect data and turn it into practical action items, if necessary. She added there are some immediate results of the release such as plains being flooded from the excess water, and later down the system, receding waterlines as a result of the ramp down.

“A big purpose of that release was to do sediment flushing and habitat maintenance,” she said…

“I was on the river during the peak release. It was the highest I had seen it,” said Hawkins, who traversed the river between Bradfield and Slickrock. “It felt like a celebration. People were looking out for each other.”

During the flyover, the Dolores River curved and curled through the Earth’s patchwork quilt of forest, farmland and free-living.
Rafters and kayakers could be spotted in almost every area of the river, appearing more like multicolored specs than anything else…

Organizations like the nature conservancy and the Dolores River Conservancy District work with various stakeholders, including recreational groups like the Dolores River Boating Advocates (DRBA).

“DRBA has been working really hard on the release this year; both communication to boaters and also communication with water managers to help shape the management of the release,” Program Coordinator Amber Clark said.

Hawkins added farm irrigation systems will most likely not be affected by the release.

“We have worked very closely with the water managers and the water users out of McPhee Reservoir to make sure that they will have their full supplies this year,” she said.

The flight lasted just over two hours and featured more than just views of the raging Dolores. Houses and barns looked like mini Monopoly pieces with their red and green roofs. At one point, several elk could be seen bathing in an isolated lake just south of Bedrock. Aerial views of the Ponderosa Gorge and Paradox Valley revealed several changes in colors throughout the rock walls; from tans to browns to reds, including greens from the area’s flora.

@CFWEwater: Southwest Basin Tour June 13-14, 2017

Click here for the inside skinny about the tour from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:

Join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education for the Southwest Basin Tour, hosted in Colorado’s beautiful San Juan mountains June 13-14.

Tour attendees will visit sites up and down the San Miguel River, from Telluride to the confluence with the Dolores River, hearing from local water managers, city officials, conservation groups and business leaders about water management, economic development and collaborative restoration projects. Share a unique educational experience with other tour participants, which will include members of the Colorado legislative interim Water Resources Review Committee, and get an in-depth look at how the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan is being put into action.

Dolores River: History of the Hanging Flume

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Bob Silbernagel):

In May, 1891, Nathaniel Turner — manager of the firm that had recently completed the hanging flume in Dolores Canyon — optimistically told the Grand Junction News that the flume was operating just as intended to mine for gold.

“Washing (of gravel and rock) has been in progress for the past 10 days,” the newspaper reported, based on information from Turner, “and everything looks promising for a speedy and profitable return to the company.”

Turner’s prediction proved incorrect, however. Gold production wasn’t as great as hoped, and Turner’s company was in constant financial turmoil.

Turner wasn’t the only one to tout the promise of the wood-and-steel engineering marvel that clings to the rock high above the Dolores River. A year earlier, the national Engineering and Mining Journal had been equally enthusiastic.

“This work will show how easy it is, when backed up by enterprising capital, to bring water … to points which were always thought to be inaccessible,” the Journal said in May 1890. “The total cost will be about $75,000 when finished, and it is expected to be completed within a few months.”

But the Journal was also wrong. The actual cost was between $165,000 and $175,000. And it required more than a year before the flume was partially completed. Turner’s company built seven miles of flume, and planned to construct another three miles to reach the northernmost of the company’s five mining claims along the Dolores River. Instead, it only reached the southernmost of those claims, and never went farther.

The five mining claims were filed from 1883 to 1885 by the Lone Tree Mining Company, a group of Salt Lake City investors. Lone Tree engaged in conventional placer mining on one claim, using limited water from nearby Mesa Creek.

In 1887, Lone Tree sold its claims to the Montrose Placer Mining Company, which consisted of investors from East St. Louis, Illinois. The company was managed by Turner, a somewhat mysterious figure who had reportedly gained experience in hydraulic mining in California.

Turner decided hydraulic mining was the best way to utilize the claims, and conceived the idea for a canal and flume to bring abundant water from the San Miguel River for the task.

Placer mining involves washing sand and gravel in sluice boxes so that the heavier gold is left behind. Hydraulic mining is an industrial variation in which water is shot through a nozzle at high pressure onto the face of a cliff or gravel deposit, washing away tons of gravel, rock and dirt that is run through a large–scale sluicing system.

The Montrose Placer Mining Company constructed seven miles of flume in 1890 and 1891. Another three miles of canal carried the water from the San Miguel River to the wooden flume.

Pine lumber was logged in the La Sal Mountains of Utah, and cut into large planks. At least 18 wagon trails were built to carry materials to locations on the rim of Dolores Canyon, where they could be lowered to the workers below.

Workers were suspended by ropes to mark the grade the flume was to follow, and some were likely suspended while drilling holes for the thick bolts that were drilled into the rock to anchor the flume. Later, the workers used a cantilevered derrick attached to the end of one section of flume to construct the next section.

The problem for Turner’s company wasn’t the flume. It was the ore.

The gold recovered from the hydraulic washing proved to be too fine to be collected in appreciable amounts in the sluicing operations. The hydraulic mining in 1891 continued at least into July, but it’s not clear how long it went on after that.

A year after Turner’s optimistic proclamation, the U.S. General Land Office informed the Montrose Placer Mining Company that it still owed money for one of its five claims. Apparently, Lone Tree Mining had not made the final payment on the claim.

Montrose Placer Mining Company was unable to pay. Turner left the company in disgrace. But in 1893, when the company was sold at a sheriff’s sale, Turner reappeared to purchase it. He formed the Vixen Alluvial Gold Mining Company.

In 1897, Vixen obtained $21,000 in additional financing. Turner and the company apparently intended to complete the final three miles of the flume and begin hydraulic mining on the other four claims. But that never occurred.

The entire system was lost in a court judgment in 1899, then sold again in 1900, this time to a new company called the Montrose Mining Company, whose investors were actually from the Front Range.

The new company filed documents saying it worked its claims for four weeks in 1903, but quit because it ran out of water.

The property was sold one more time, but there is no evidence that any work on the mining claims was conducted after 1903. The flume and mining claims were abandoned by 1904, although settlers and ranchers had already begun scavenging wood from the easily accessible portions of the flume.

A century after the flume was abandoned, an effort began to preserve it. The nonprofit Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, working with the Bureau of Land Management, and with assistance from a Colorado State Historical Grant, the JM Kaplan Fund and John Hendricks of Gateway Canyons Resort, contracted for studies of the flume’s construction and its history. In 2012, 48 feet of the flume were rebuilt, using construction techniques similar to those used in 1890 and 1891.

The flume is listed on the National Register of Historic Structures and is the longest historic structure in Colorado.

Information for this column came from “History and Background of the Hanging Flume,” by Alpine Archaeological Consultants of Montrose; “Flume Work of the Montrose Placer Mining Company,” The Engineering and Mining Journal, May 17, 1890; Interpretive Association of Western Colorado; and from Zebulon Miracle, curator at Gateway Canyons Resort.

#Runoff news: McPhee scheduled releases into Dolores River

Dolores River near Bedrock

From CanoeKayak.com (Eugene Buchanan):

The Dolores River Monitoring and Recommendation team recently agreed on a plan to release water from the dam, which involved input from water managers, boaters, scientists, environmental groups, federal lands agencies, and local governments.

Surplus water is expected to spill from the McPhee Dam from April 13 until mid-June, with 45 to 60 days of flow planned at 2,000 cubic feet per second. Water managers plan to release an even larger burst of water, expected at 4,000 cfs, during three days in late May (May 19-22). Scientists say the extra water will flush extra sediment downstream and create better habitat for native fish.

“That’s a great flow level, something we haven’t seen in years,” says local rafter Sean McNamara. “Bring on Snaggletooth!”

Despite the extra water, water managers say all water allocations will be met, including those for agricultural use.

#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.