Area reservoirs including Lake Nighthorse, Vallecito Reservoir and the McPhee Reservoir are near or at full capacity and are expected to have enough supply for all of their obligations this year, according to operators of the three reservoirs.
“It’s kind of a remarkable story,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which oversees McPhee Reservoir. “I mean, we went from one of the lowest reservoir content in our history to one of the largest snowpack.”
Preston said McPhee Reservoir, which holds 381,195 acre-feet, experienced a water shortage in 2018, but he expects to release more than 100,000 acre-feet of excess water for boating and ecological work this year. Operators of the reservoir have already released 124,000 acre-feet as of June 30 and say that releases are based on runoff forecasts and temperatures.
Despite water levels not being high enough to normally trigger a release, operators released 1,200 acre-feet on Memorial Day, in part, to accommodate boaters. Operators say they can still fill the reservoir, even with the Memorial Day release.
The district paused managed releases after the Memorial Day to allow the water level to rise, and on June 6, the Dolores Water Conservancy District started an extended release that Preston said will continue for some time, but he is not sure how long it will last. It all depends on lingering snowpack and how quickly it melts, he said.
Preston said McPhee Reservoir is essentially at full capacity.
He said the district plans to release any remaining inflows down the Dolores River minus a portion diverted for irrigation purposes.
The Dolores Water Conservancy District plans to continue releases between 900 cfs and 1,400 cfs to equalize total inflows and total outflows, which keep the reservoir’s elevation level constant, according to a news release sent June 26 by the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
Last weekend, the district managed releases with flows ranging between 1,070 cfs on Friday to over 1,700 cfs on Sunday.
Vallecito Reservoir, with a capacity of 129,700 acre-feet, was storing about 124,000 acre-feet as of Monday, according to a 40-day dataset from the Bureau of Reclamation.
As of Friday, flows were running “fairly high,” but were not at peak flows, said Ken Beck, superintendent of Pine River Irrigation District, the agency that operates Vallecito Reservoir.
Beck said storm events can pose issues in managing the reservoir, but the district is not worried about flooding.
“We’re in great shape,” Beck said of the conditions of the Vallecito Reservoir.
He said forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association earlier this year put predictions about possible inflows “all over the board.”
“They just kept climbing,” Beck said.
The Pine River Irrigation District is on the “tail end” getting the reservoir full.
Lake Nighthorse, a source for industry and recreation, reached its full capacity June 27, said Russ Howard, manager of the Animas-La Plata Operations and Maintenance Association, which manages the reservoir southwest of downtown Durango.
Howard said operators of Lake Nighthorse did not pump as much from the Animas River this year.
“We had a considerable amount of runoff into Lake Nighthorse from Basin Creek, which is very unusual,” he said.
This was the first year the area had enough snow at low elevations to affect Lake Nighthorse.