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.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Land Management:
The Bureau of Land Management seeks public input as it begins updating a management plan for about 40 miles of the Upper Colorado River between Parshall and State Bridge.
The Recreation Area Management Plan update will guide the specific management of the Upper Colorado River Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) within the Kremmling Field Office, an extremely popular area for commercial and private float-boating and fishing. More than 90,000 people visit the area each year.
“The original management plan for the area dates back to 2000, and a lot has changed since then,” said BLM Kremmling Field Manager Stephanie Odell. “We want to hear what the public would like us to address – things like ways to reduce crowding and user conflicts, potentially improving facilities, balancing use with conserving the natural resources of the area, or any other issues.”
The BLM is hosting three public open house meetings to answer questions and accept written comments:
• April 18 from 4-6 p.m. in Silverthorne at the Summit County Library, 651 Center Circle
• April 20 from 4-6 p.m. in Kremmling at the CSU Extension Hall, 210 11th St.
• April 21 from 6-8 p.m. in Denver at the REI Flagship Store, 1416 Platte St.
The BLM Kremmling Field Office collected more than $220,000 in commercial and recreation fees from the Upper Colorado River SRMA last year. These funds are used to manage the SRMA. Recreation on BLM lands in the Kremmling Field Office supports an estimated 280 jobs generating $8.4 million in labor income annually.
Comments must be received by May 15 and may be e-mailed to email@example.com or mailed to Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Shane Dittlinger, P.O. Box 68, Kremmling, CO 80459.
Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
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.
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.
Construction is complete on the new whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt. Now, just add water.
Two features that create a wave effect were added about one-quarter mile upstream from the confluence with the Fryingpan River.
The water level is still a bit too low in that stretch of the river for the features to be used. They will likely start drawing enthusiasts as the flow rises later this month, according to Jason Carey, an engineer with River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the project…
There will be a lower volume of water flowing on the Roaring Fork River than on the Colorado, so Basalt’s whitewater park might appeal to users with a wider range of skills.
The two features were installed on a stretch of the river between Fishermen’s Park on the east and a string of riverside commercial development to the west. The features are across Two River Road from the entrance to the Elk Run subdivision.
Two concrete pilings were driven into the riverbed and capped with material that looks like rock. They are separated by about 150 feet.
Each of the structures creates a wave that water enthusiasts can play on. Each has a calmer pool just downstream. When construction started in September, officials said the upper feature will be more “radical” while the lower one would be gentler and accommodate more users with a broader range of skills.
MacArthur said kayakers will find both features alluring. The gentler feature also will attract stand-up paddlers, he said.
He anticipates use to start later this month and stretch into early fall.
Carey said a track hoe and other heavy machinery needed to build the project were out of the river by March 15, as required by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit. A temporary dam was dismantled last month and water restored to the main channel. Water was diverted into a side channel for six months — when the flow was at its lowest.
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams budgeted $770,000 for the project. The project also gives Pitkin County the ability to call for water in that stretch of river in certain circumstances. That will benefit a stretch of the river that usually has low flows during dry summers, county officials said during public meetings about the project.
FromThe Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):
City Council, at its Thursday meeting, put the brakes on a plan to combine the city’s separate Parks and Recreation and River commissions, following pleas from river advocates for the city to maintain an advisory panel focused on cleaning up, restoring, protecting and preserving the city’s waterways and riparian zones.
Recently, at the suggestion of some council members and city staff, the city put together a proposal to combine the two advisory commissions, partly because of some overlapping duties related to recreation trails planning, construction and maintenance. Waning participation by some of the appointed commission members also weighed into the thinking.
It was that decision several years after the River Commission was formed, essentially putting the river stewards in charge of carrying out the city’s river trails master plan, that pulled the commission away from its original mission, said Steve Smith, who sat on the commission for several years after it was formed in the early 1990s.
Click here to read the newsletter from the Eagle River Watershed Council. Here’s an excerpt:
“There is a religious experience in coming over top of a huge rapid and burying your bowman’s face down until you maybe can’t see him,” Claude Terry describes of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter—then Georgia Governor—completing the first tandem descent of the wild Chattooga River in 1974.
President Carter grew up near rivers under the guidance of his father, an avid fisherman, which built the foundation of his admiration and respect for wild waters. Under the tutelage of Claude Terry, the co-founder of American Rivers, he learned all he could about kayaking and canoeing, and the pair became the first to run the Class IV+ rated Bull Sluice rapid in an open canoe. The experience through the beautiful, rugged, and wild rapids on the Georgia-South Carolina border led him to advocate for the listing of the Chattooga River through the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is one of the earliest pieces of environmental regulations surrounding water. The Act’s aim is to protect the natural and healthy flow of certain rivers that exhibit “outstandingly remarkable” scenic, cultural, historical, recreational, geologic, and other similar values worthy of preservation for future generations. Essentially, it ensures the river will remain in its current free-flowing form and defends against future damming or development that would harm the river and its surrounding ecosystem.
Typically, a quarter-mile buffer surrounds designated Wild & Scenic Rivers. Included with the designation of each river is a management plan specific to that stream to ensure the conservation of the “Outstanding Remarkable Values” (ORVs) for which the wild river was identified. The management plan is developed through a process that promotes participation across political boundaries and from the public. Existing water rights, private property rights, and interstate compacts are not affected by a listing or designation.
While there are about 3.6 million miles of rivers and streams in the U.S., only about 12,709 miles are protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act—about 0.35%. And while there is only one river in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre, currently protected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, Deep Creek in our own Eagle County was found “suitable” for Wild & Scenic designation in 2014. American Rivers and Eagle River Watershed Council are currently working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to designate this pristine river as such.
Flowing from the Flat Tops and Deep Lake to its confluence with the Colorado River just before Dotsero, the river passes through a deep and narrow canyon of limestone rock that hosts one of the biggest and most complex cave systems in Colorado. Deep Creek is also home to rare species from riparian plants to bats, all of which will fall under the umbrella of protection with a Wild & Scenic designation. Sheep and cattle ranchers graze their livestock in the area as well. The Watershed Council and American Rivers have been working with these ranchers to ensure that their grazing rights are protected as they have used this land without impacts on the wild and scenic values of the creek for generations.
President Carter continued his legacy of environmentalism throughout his presidency, blocking numerous dam projects throughout the U.S. that would have negatively and permanently altered rivers and their ecosystems. A film by American Rivers, entitled “The Wild President” explores the groundbreaking first descent, and will be one of 10 inspiring and adventurous films shown at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on April 12th at the Riverwalk Theatre in Edwards. The film festival was created by Patagonia and is hosted locally by Eagle River Watershed Council in an effort to increase community awareness of our relationship with the planet, particularly our waterways, and to inspire action. For more information and to buy tickets, visit http://www.erwc.org/events/calendar.
Lizzie Schoder is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.
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.
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.
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.