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MailTribune.com
  • Rains raise reservoirs, help snowpack

  • Rainstorms that have been sweeping through Southern Oregon this week lived up to their billing Friday, creating little local flooding so far but providing indications they could wash away reservoir shortfalls by late next week.
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  • Rainstorms that have been sweeping through Southern Oregon this week lived up to their billing Friday, creating little local flooding so far but providing indications they could wash away reservoir shortfalls by late next week.
    Rainfall totals in Medford flirted with 1959's Valentine's Day record of 1.87 inches as the latest wave of warm, heavy rains and high snow levels materialized as forecast.
    Just last week, the region was so parched it had water managers whispering about drought.
    "Right now, it seems to be tracking along with the forecast," said Laurie Nicholas, the reservoir regulation chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Portland. "It's not a really huge event, but it's had a good duration."
    Lost Creek Lake, which started Thursday 9 feet shy of where it should be on Valentine's Day, rose more than 3 feet by Thursday evening.
    More than 1.5 inches had fallen in Medford by 7:30 p.m. Friday, and Nichols said heavy rains are forecast to remain throughout today.
    If that forecast holds, Lost Creek Lake could be back to its normal filling schedule as early as Sunday night, she said.
    Applegate Reservoir, which was down to a trickle last week, rose almost 8 feet by Friday evening. Forecasts call for the reservoir to rise close to 40 feet this week and catch up to its regular filling schedule by the end of next week, Nicholas said.
    Water releases from both projects are vital for summer survival and distribution of native chinook salmon in the mainstem Rogue and Applegate rivers.
    Snow levels were up to 8,000 feet Friday, washing out Sunday's cross-country ski race at Diamond Lake, which had less than 5 inches of snow Friday afternoon.
    The heavy and high-elevation rains helped boost the Rogue Basin's precipitation total to 50 percent of average, and the snowpack rose from 21 percent of normal early last week to 29 percent Friday afternoon.
    That could improve today, when the snow level is expected to drop to between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level, Nicholas said.
    Most computations for rating a storm event are completed after it's over, but so far it appears to be penciling out to be a five-year event — or one statistically likely to occur once every five years, Lutz said.
    "I'm comfortable saying this is a five-year event," he said.
    A flood warning was issued Friday as runoff flowed over roads and packed culverts with water-blocking debris in the Eagle Point area and other isolated locales, but the heavy runoff caused little trouble in Medford.
    A handful of storm drains clogged, but city officials had a crew on standby to clear the debris and drain the backed-up puddles.
    "They're 10-minute jobs to fix," said Cory Crebbin, the city's public works manager. "On some calls, it takes a crew longer to get there than to clean it."
    The city also is aggressive at cleaning storm drains to ensure a steady flow of urban runoff into Bear Creek. The storm-drain system, Crebbin said, was designed to handle a 25-year storm event.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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