Dolores River not at its lowest, but close

THE MCPHEE RESERVOIR boat ramp has a lot more land showing this week as lake levels continue to drop.


The Dolores River looks a bit low this year, along with McPhee Reservoir, but things have been worse.

The Dolores River is flowing at around 20 cubic feet per second. Now that is low, but it has been lower, said Mike Preston, manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

It is likely the third lowest it has been, Preston said.

This is a bit nerve-wracking for water officials, including Preston as McPhee Reservoir continues to drop.

The reservoir currently sits at 43,155 acre feet of water, about 98,000 acre feet lower than last year. But it has been lower.

On Nov. 1 2002 the reservoir stored a mere 4,567 acre feet and on Nov. 1 2003 that number was 21,943 acre feet.

"On November 1st, 2011 McPhee had 140,896 acre feet in active storage complements of mother nature and careful water management. Good thing that we started this high or things would be much worse than they are," Preston said.

Weather is a difficult thing to bet on, but Preston is hoping for loads of snow.

"If we don't see some major storms, we are going to have to plan for a tight water year," he said.

But the area often sees heavy storms in February and March and we still aren't through December yet.

"It could go either way," Preston said. "It is too early to panic, but we will be prepared."

Preston said they are watching the weather and numbers closely and will have water shortage plans, if we have a dry winter, laid out by March, so farmers can know if irrigation supplies will be cut short.

"But it is too early to worry," Preston said.

At the Jan. 10 Dolores Water Conservancy District Board meeting Preston and others will present updated content, Snotel readings and "probabilities" for the irrigation season ahead.

In Durango, the Animas River was reportedly at its lowest in 102 years of records, Rege Leach, the state Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango, said Thursday.

The second-lowest flow in the Animas was in 1934, when 9,374 acre-feet flowed through Durango, Leach said.

Other area rivers didn't fare much better, Leach said. The November flow in the La Plata River was the fourth lowest in 103 years of record keeping, and the Dolores River carried its third-lowest flow in 96 years of records.

A story Thursday in the Summit Daily News reported that the Blue River nearly dried up Tuesday in an area of downtown Breckenridge. The smell of dead fish was pervasive, the story said.

Other area reservoir levels are low, too, Leach said.

In 49 years, Lemon Reservoir has had less water in only five years; Vallecito Reservoir has recorded a lower water level in only 14 of 72 years; McPhee Reservoir has had only four years with less water in 29 years; and Navajo Reservoir, in 51 years, has had less water in only eight years.

"Reservoirs are drawn down because we had a dry summer," Leach said. "Now, we're going into a dry winter."

Ryan Christianson, group chief of the Southern Water Management Group of the Bureau of Reclamation in Durango, said Vallecito Reservoir is 30 percent full; Lemon is 19 percent full; McPhee, 51 percent; Navajo, 57 percent; and Lake Nighthorse, 94 percent.

Lake Nighthorse was filled from the Animas River earlier this year.

The Durango Herald contributed to this story.

THE DOLORES River is at its third lowest level in history, while other rivers are even lower. The Animas River in Durango is reportedly at its lowest level in recent history. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

THE DOLORES River is at its third lowest level in history, while other rivers are even lower. The Animas River in Durango is reportedly at its lowest level in recent history.