Though early indications had some river enthusiasts hopeful the lower Dolores River would have enough water for rafting for the first time since 2011, all signs now point to another year of a lonely river.
“We’re real close to the ‘It ain’t going to happen’ stage right now,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “I wish I had better news.”
Heavy storms in December and January had snowpack levels at 150 percent of average in the Dolores basin. But then March and April dried up, as did the chances for rafting the lower Dolores.
A subpar April resulted in an estimated inflow drop of 15,000 acre-feet in McPhee Reservoir, which is now about 61,500 acre-feet below full. Preston said that could result in McPhee sitting 3 feet below full at the end of runoff season.
For rafters to be able to run the Dolores, it truly is going to take another “miracle May.”
Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said predictions are leaning toward a wet May, June and July. But whether it will be enough to answer the prayers of local rafters remains to be seen.
“The Dolores, with this last event that was fairly wet, bumped a half a foot at Bedrock,” he said. “But this next system (next week), I don’t see it that widespread.”
According to the National Resource Conservation Service, the amount of snowmelt expected to flow by the town of Dolores is predicted to be 84 percent of average from April 1 to July 31 – yet another ominous statistic.
The Dolores River was dammed in the late 1980s, which created McPhee Reservoir to ensure domestic water supply for Cortez and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, and irrigation for more than 70,000 acres of otherwise arid land.
Boaters, for their part, have long maintained they were left in the lurch. The water district can only release enough water to raft the river when reserves are more than McPhee can hold.
Preston said if there’s any chance of releasing excess water in the Dolores this year, it’s going to be “small and sudden,” probably requiring a rush of water to flow into McPhee before irrigation season begins.
Any announcement would be posted on the water district’s website, www.doloreswater.com/releases.