Low water at Prineville Reservoir

Jul 10, 2015

Bend Bulletin

Low water at Prineville Reservoir

State Parks closes two boat ramps early; Sheriff issues warning

By Dylan J. Darling

Normally the three boat ramps run by Oregon State Parks at Prineville Reservoir stay open and usable at least until Labor Day.

But this is not a normal year when it comes to the popular boating reservoir’s water level, the result of a winter that left little snow in nearby mountains. Last weekend, State Parks closed two of the boat ramps — Powder House Cove and Jasper Point.

People were having difficulty launching boats at the two ramps due to the dropping water level, said Steve Memminger, park manager at Prineville Reservoir State Park.

“… They were already pretty low when we closed them,” he said.

A warning issued Monday by the Crook County Sheriff’s Office to people trying to launch large boats at Prineville Reservoir said the reservoir has low water similar to what would normally be seen around mid-to-late September.

This week, State Parks also pulled a dock out of the reservoir typically left in the water throughout summer for boat moorage at Prineville Reservoir State Park. The dock provided a place for people to tie up 32 boats. The boat ramp at the state park remains open for now even with the dock out , and Memmeminger said it may be so for the rest of the summer.

“The ramp at the main park here is deep enough and we are hoping it will stay usable through Labor Day,” he said.

Low water levels make conditions ripe for boating accidents and injuries, wrote Ashley Massey, spokeswoman for the Oregon State Marine Board.

“As the water levels drop, boaters become more concentrated and confined,” she wrote. Data from a 2008 state study showed Prineville Reservoir is in the top 20 of most frequented bodies of water in Oregon.

Prineville Reservoir is low this summer because of what happened this winter and spring, said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department in Bend. The reservoir never came close to full due to little snowfall and low inflow. On top of that, early, high irrigation demand further brought the water level down fast.

Prineville Reservoir can hold up to 148,640 acre-feet of water, Gorman said. An acre-foot is enough water to submerge an acre of land under a foot of water. This time of year the reservoir is typically about 90 to 95 percent full. As of Thursday the reservoir was 57 percent full, according to data collected by the Water Resources Department.

The last time the reservoir was this low in early July was in 1992, Gorman said, after a couple successive dry years.

“A drought event worse probably than we are seeing now,” he said.

Prineville Reservoir is not the only reservoir with low water this year. Thursday, Ochoco Reservoir was 50 percent full, Crane Prairie 59 percent full and Wickiup Reservoir 46 percent full, according to Water Resources data. The Army Corps of Engineers also reported Thursday that Detroit Reservoir along state Highway 22 was 29 percent full.

Prineville Reservoir normally draws in boaters, including water skiers and anglers, during summertime, said Mike McCabe, Crook County judge. Low water may bring a drop in visitors, which could have an economic impact on more than just the state park and businesses close to the reservoir.

Boaters headed to the reservoir often stop in Prineville, perhaps to buy gas, eat at a restaurant or load up on camping supplies. “It’s just going to affect the community throughout,” McCabe said.

As bad as this year could turn out for recreation at Prineville, he said next year could be even worse.

“If we don’t have a good winter we are going to be in pretty tough shape,” McCabe said.

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