Spring runoff from above-average snowpack has created impressive boatable flows on the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir, even without a release from the dam.
Gauges show the lower Dolores River running at 1,190 cubic feet per second at Slick Rock, and at 831 cfs at Bedrock as of April 9.
The 28-mile Slickrock Canyon section is coveted by boaters for its whitewater rapids and scenic qualities, but it is usually too low to boat unless there is a dam release. No permit is required.
Boater Cody Perry, of Rig to Flip films, ran the section with friends over the weekend in Alpaca pack rafts, made in Mancos.
“We have been closely monitoring the river gauges and saw an opportunity,” he said. “The rewards were great; it is a beautiful canyon.”
The flows were muddy with sediment, but they saw no hazards. Campsites were accessible, and they saw one other boating party.
“You could take a raft, but be prepared for changing flow conditions. It is really dynamic right now,” Perry said.
Disappointment Creek, a tributary of the Dolores, is full with runoff and is the main source for the boatable flows in Slick Rock canyon, Perry said. Other feeder creeks, including La Sal Creek, are also contributing to increased flows.
It is not clear whether sections upstream from Slickrock Canyon, such as Snaggletooth Rapid and Ponderosa Gorge, have boatable flows because the sections have no river gauges. The river gauge at McPhee Dam is reading 40 cfs.
Colder weather is expected to slow the runoff and temporarily reduce river flows.
Meanwhile, the Dolores River above McPhee Reservoir is also rising. Flows in the town of Dolores were 600 cfs as of Tuesday, and paddleboarders and kayakers have been taking advantage.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said he plans to do a flyover of the river from Dolores to Rico this month to look for hazards so they can be cleared before the boating season begins. The helicopter flight is made possible by the San Juan County (New Mexico) Sheriff’s Office.
With Dolores Basin’s snowpack at 130 percent of normal, McPhee Reservoir is expected to fill, and managers report there is a 50 percent chance there will be excess for a one- to three-week boating release from McPhee Dam in May.
A meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 18 at Dolores Community Center about the possibility.
Also, Dolores River Boating Advocates are sponsoring guided boating trips for youths on April 27 and May 18. Registration has begun through the Cortez Recreation Center.