Lost Creek water release returns to normal totals

Water releases from Lost Creek Lake to the upper Rogue River almost doubled this week after Jackson County's largest reservoir got back on schedule for filling next month.

After nearly three months of releasing close to minimal water flows through Lost Creek dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers upped the flows Monday from about 1,000 cubic feet per second to 2,000 cfs.

The increased releases came after Sunday night's flow into the reservoir hit 3,600 cfs, tops so far this calendar year, pushing the reservoir's elevation level up to normal for the start of April and on track for filling in May, Corps officials said.

The lake had been as much as 12 feet shy of the agency's filling schedule, thanks largely to the driest January through March ever recorded in the Rogue Valley, according to the National Weather Service.

That dry three-month stretch also has dropped the Rogue Basin's snowpack down to 72 percent of average.

Agency hydrologists had kept the releases ratcheted way down to capture as much of the inflow as possible for release later this summer to help wild spring chinook and fall chinook salmon survive. This "shaving" of releases helped the reservoir slowly recoup its deficiencies and it is back on track for filling for the 12th consecutive year.

"We've been catching up here at Lost Creek for quite a while," says Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin's operation manager. "But if you look at Applegate (Lake), that's not quite the case.

"We'll likely fill both reservoirs, but we're a little more likely to fill Lost Creek than Applegate," Buck says.

The regular filling schedule for Applegate Lake calls for adding storage Feb. 1, and the reservoir along the Applegate River in southwestern Jackson County was about 25 feet shy of the regular filling schedule, Corps data shows.

Rain and snowmelt in the upper Applegate Basin has lagged behind that above Lost Creek dam, and Applegate Lake was 20 feet shy of the filling schedule just last week, Corps data shows.

But last weekend's heavy rains shot inflows up and the lake was listed Tuesday at about 11 feet shy of the filling schedule, Buck says.

Releases into the Applegate River will remain "shaved down" to the required minimum of 150 cfs while spring rains help recoup storage losses from the record dry start to 2013, Buck says.

In recent years, similar mid-winter lags in water storage at both reservoirs were washed away by unseasonably wet Aprils and Mays.

"We've gotten bailed out the past few springs," Buck says. "A wet spring can erase these deficiencies."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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