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Water Managers and Boaters Reflect on 2016 Dolores River Releases

Creative Commons

The 2016 boating season on the lower Dolores River came with little warning, missed the Memorial Day weekend, and had two short peaks instead of one long one.

On Tuesday, managers of McPhee Dam and Reservoir provided explanations for those occurrences during a forum at the Dolores Community Center. Dolores Water Conservancy District engineer Ken Curtis said managers “bounced back and forth” through the spring about whether there would be enough water for a managed release, or spill. He and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Vern Harrell said as high-elevation snow melts and Sno-Tel data disappears, predicting runoff becomes tougher. They discussed the difficulties of ensuring that the reservoir fills while simultaneously trying to time any release for the optimum boating experience. They emphasized the importance of carrying over water from year to year. Curtis said if managers had gambled and provided a boating release in 2012, farmers would have gotten only a small fraction of their supply in the drought of 2013. Harrell said better forecasting is needed, but the tools aren’t yet available. Boaters raised concerns about the river’s condition after five years without a spill, saying it was overgrown, and isn't really even a river as it is now. DWCD general manager Mike Preston said a Monitoring and Recommendation Team examines such issues. Everyone agreed on the need for ongoing dialogue and communication between all interests.

Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal. She is currently a freelance writer as well as the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.
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