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Fishing bans lifted on rivers in Southwest Colorado

Native fish on the Lower Dolores River use deep pools like this one to seek refuge during drought. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
River conditions improve thanks to rain

Voluntary fishing bans on area rivers have been lifted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife thanks to monsoonal rains and lower temperatures, but abnormally dry conditions still exist.

In late July, volunteer afternoon closures were in place on the Animas River through Durango, Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir, San Juan River through Pagosa Springs and on Tomichi Creek through the Tomichi Creek State Wildlife Area near Gunnison.

Water temperatures had risen above 71 degrees, and stream flows were below 50% of daily average.

When flows are low and temperatures are high, fish are more stressed, and anglers will find it difficult to safely release them after a catch.

However, lower temperatures and increased rainfall improved conditions for fish.

“We would like to thank anglers across the region for respecting the voluntary closures during the hottest days of the summer when water temperatures surpassed 71 degrees and flows were low,” said John Alves, CPW senior aquatic biologist. “Our aquatics team has reviewed the trend in flows and temperatures over the last couple of weeks. With the recent rains and cooler air temperatures observed, we have seen increased flows and temperatures declining below 71 degrees.”

While the voluntary closures have been lifted, he said flows on the Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir remain well below average. Anglers should use their best judgment while fishing the lower Dolores.

The drought is still in force. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Montezuma County is in severe or extreme drought, Levels D2 and D3 on a scale of five.

La Plata County has fared slightly better, showing mostly moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions, Levels D0 and D1 on the scale of five.

Low winter snowpack cut McPhee Reservoir water users this year by 75%. The water reserved for release to the fishery below the dam was cut by the same amount.

Fish flows released from McPhee Dam are at 25 cubic feet per second, down from 45 cfs or higher when the water allocated for fish has a full supply. This the second consecutive year a fishing closure has been implemented for the lower Dolores.

Cortez moisture below average

Jim Andrus, cooperative weather observer for the National Weather Service, said year-to-date precipitation for Cortez is below the average through August.

Decent monsoon rain brought 1.1 inches of rain to Cortez, just below the 1.3 inch average.

Year-to-date moisture through August is 4.56 inches, or 60% of the average by this time of 7.49 inches.

“July was grim,” Andrus said, bringing in just 0.53 inches, or 52% of the normal average.

The monsoon pattern is still in effect, he said, but has been favoring western New Mexico.

“Monsoons behave like a river, they wander back and forth across the Southwest, we have been on the western edge of the flow,” he said.

Monsoonal thunderstorms have a notoriously scattered pattern, “like throwing up a deck of cards, where the cards land are showers and everywhere in between is dry,” he said.

September is traditionally the last month of the monsoon season. The forecast for Cortez is hot and dry with 10% chance of rain this weekend then a consistent dry and hot spell through the rest of the week.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com