Tuesday, April 7, 2009

As snow flows to rivers, so we look to floating ...


Well, another ski season is logged in Üllr's books. (Ski area-wise, anyway -- backcountry corn is still yet to come ...)

So if you're like me, then your eyes are now turning from looking upstream to gazing downstream.

Alas, though, even despite this weekend's small gift of April snow, that prognosis looking upstream to see what might be headed downstream as temperatures rise isn't all that promising.

State-wide, the snowpack across the state's seven major river basins was 96 percent of normal on April 1 -- that after having been as high as 120 percent of normal on Jan. 1, after December's mega-storms. In February, reports were calling the snowpack the best since 1997 , including above-average snow in the San Juans -- the Rio Grande basin was 130 percent of average, and the Animas/Dolores/San Juan basins were 116 percent of average (still, though, at only 75 percent of last year at that time).

But then came a warm, dry March ...

According to an AP story this morning, though, this weekend's storm pushed the average back up over 100 percent of average.

In Southwest Colorado, though, the reports aren't quite as bright.

Dolores River

Last year we long-time Dolores junkies felt like were thrown a party and got to binge once again on one of the region's -- or, hell, the damn planet's -- most glorious river canyons. For the first time since the mid-1990s, the Dolores offered up boatable floww from April into June.

This year, though, the Dolores Water Conservation District is now reporting that an early prediction of a month of recreational flows to be spilled from McPhee Reservoir has been scaled back after the dry March. The district's website reports:

March was not a good precipitation month for us. The storms that rolled through brought mostly high winds and dust, and almost no precipitation. The current forecast for April 1 has dropped the spill to approximately 30,000 AF (acre-feet). Therefore our best estimate at this time is that the spring runoff will be below normal. The rafting window has closed some, but water that becomes available will be released around the end of May.

The district predicts:
  • Flows in April will stay as low as 50 cfs.
  • Releases in early May should increase toward 400 cfs.
  • Releases the week of May 11 - 15 may increase to 400 cfs to facilitate Colorado Department of Wildlife fish surveys.
  • After that week flows are projected to rise to rafting levels of 800 to 1,200 cfs.
  • Those flows may last about two weeks and should include Memorial Day.
The district urges boaters to check doloreswater.com around May 7 for updated predictions.

San Juan River

In mid-March, with the San Juan Basin snowpack at just over 100 percent of average, the Bureau of Reclamation was predicting several weeks of releases of 5,000 cfs beginning in mid-May.

Since then, though, BuRec has lower its estimates to as little as a week of high-volume releases.

A public meeting on Navajo Reservoir operations will be held at 1 p.m., Tuesday, April 28, in Farmington. Reservoir operations over last fall and winter will be reviewed, and plans for next spring and summer 2009 operations will be discussed. Contact BuRec's Durango office at 970.385.6560 for information.

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This post also appears on InsideOutsideMag.com. Check it out!
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