Streams are flowing and reservoirs are beginning to fill in drought-stricken Crook County. But will Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs fill completely? Is the drought over?
When we visited the upper end of Prineville Reservoir Thursday, the Crooked River was flowing in at about 2,400 cubic feet per second.
A few days ago it was twice that volume.
The inflow will fluctuate with the temperature and rate of snowmelt in the Ochoco Mountains.
“There’s 11,000 acre-feet (of water) in Ochoco Reservoir, about a quarter full. Prineville Reservoir is a little over one-third full,” said Bruce Scanlon, manager of the Ochoco Irrigation District. “They are improving but still low for this time of year. Prospects are improving for when everything comes off.”
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Irrigation district officials say they’ll be happy if the reservoirs, that supply water to 30 square miles of farmland, reach two-thirds capacity.
People who play on the shores and in the reservoirs will be happy, too.
“Last year when we visited, the water level was so low there was a hug mudflat. The dogs got muddy. There’s no way you could have gotten a boat out there,” said Molly Chandler, Portland. “Now it looks beautiful. It’s really come up to the end of the boat dock. Hopefully it will continue to come up and people can enjoy it more this year.”
Snow piled up in the higher elevations of the Crooked River Basin in March.
“Snowpack is above normal. The Ochoco Meadow Snotel (automated snow survey station) reached its second highest snowpack on record,” said Matt Warbritton, Oregon Snow Survey Lead Hydrologist. “There’s reason for some optimism because of conditions we have now, but there’s quite a ways to go to totally alleviate drought in that region.”
Crook County’s drought designation has been downgraded from exceptional to extreme, meaning the drought is far from over.
“The way people have fallowed ground and changed their cropping patterns to go to more drought-tolerant crops… at what point are you able to shift and go a different direction? That uncertainty is the risk associated with farming,” Scanlon said.
The rising water level has reached the bottom of the boat ramp at Prineville Reservoir State Park.
The dock has been placed in the water but the ramp will not open until the water rises higher.