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Snowmelt finally starting to show at high lakes

Our rainfall thus far this "water season" is reported to be 150 percent of normal, yet the levels of Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Fish lakes have changed very little over the last several months. Why? In spite of the many springs it contains, Fish Lake has barely risen during this time.

— Bud B., Medford

We at the High-Mountain Lakes Bureau of Since You Asked have been watching the reservoir levels as well, and your letter made us get up off our recliners and start digging around to determine why we're not seeing big changes yet at Hyatt and Howard Prairie reservoirs and Fish Lake.

First, looked at Fish Lake, which has hovered around 53 percent of full for weeks before inching up a bit in the past two weeks. A look at the U.S. Geological Service's gauge data shows that streamflow into the lake Thursday was zero.

The snow up there just isn't melting and translating into runoff yet.

At Howard Prairie, the reservoir had been holding around the high 50-percent level until just recently, when a combination of stream flow and a quick melting of the lake's ice earlier this week shot the reservoir up to 81 percent full, according to the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

One of the reasons for that rapid climb is that the bureau plans to do some seismic retrofits to Hyatt Dam, and to do so the water level there will have to remain about what it is now — just under two-thirds full, says Manager Jim Pendleton of the Talent Irrigation District, which operates Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Emigrant reservoirs.

TID is releasing enough water from Hyatt to fulfill hydropower needs at the Greensprings power plant that Howard Prairie can capture all of its runoff.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see Howard Prairie getting pretty darn close to full this year," Pendleton says.

Emigrant Lake is at 91 percent full and is filling right on track for its winter flood-control schedule, so it can't be any higher than what it is, Pendleton says.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.