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While the runoff will be big this year, future water availability is uncertain

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR<br><br>LOWER DOLORES River

There were only a couple of certainties expressed at last week’s annual water meeting: that boating on the Dolores is taking place in some of the coldest water in the state, and that more beer than normal will be consumed on the Dolores this summer.

Otherwise, the difficulties of predicting reservoir water storage levels, and how much funding for water-related projects statewide will be available, were uppermost.

The varied presentations occurred at the annual seminar organized by the Southwestern Water Conservation District, now chaired by president Bob Wolff.

This year’s spill from McPhee Reservoir will be lengthy. Snowfall was particularly good this year. But a steady release is not what appeals to boaters. Better to vary the flow from high to medium levels to give river runners different experiences in the canyon.

That variety will aid in luring the commercial users whose numbers have declined significantly. To add to the local economy, which is one aspect of managing McPhee, commercial boaters and their clients need to shop locally for equipment and foodstuffs.

A big Dolores spill does not occur often (the most recent of any size was in 2008), thus there are good reasons for making the most of it this year. Expect the river, ecology and terrain to be subjected to its dynamism.

Sediment movement with different flows is important as the river adjusts its pools and eddies while refreshing itself. And to what degree an underground aquifer will replenish depends on higher flows.

While Southwest Colorado will enjoy making the most of the Dolores, there are plenty of uncertainties about how to fund other water projects needed for a state population expected to double by 2050 (requiring an estimated 560,000 acre feet of water).

Both conservation and more efficient water uses are in the equation, but project funding is elusive. Severance taxes provide the bulk of the funding for the Department of Natural Resources, but energy extraction is not providing a predictable revenue source.

Washington, D.C., may not provide much with an emphasis on smaller government and deficit reduction.

So, enjoy the Dolores this year. When the next big spill will occur is uncertain.