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70 percent of Oregon in 'severe drought'; local lakes dropping fast

Drought, hot summer weather and continued draw-down for irrigation needs have Emigrant, Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes headed toward their lowest levels since 2014, leading to recreation closures and threatening to inflict future water headaches.

Emigrant and Hyatt lakes — which like Howard Prairie are actually reservoirs — are forecast to drop below 10 percent of capacity by the time the Talent Irrigation District halts its irrigation season in mid September. That’s at least two weeks earlier than a normal water year, TID Manager Jim Pendleton said.

“If we get any significant rainfall, that might push it out a week, but anything past Sept. 15 will be a gift for us,” Pendleton said.

That’s looking increasingly unlikely. A climate prediction report issued by the National Weather Service says Oregon will remain hot and dry well into the fall.

Also, the U.S. Drought Monitor says that almost 70 percent of Oregon is now in “severe drought” and some southern parts of the state are in “extreme drought.”

Hyatt Lake began the season under half-full from last year’s dam retrofits, and this summer’s draw-down already has caused the closure of its two boat ramps. Three of the four boat ramps at Howard Prairie already are closed, triggering an early shuttering of campgrounds around Howard Prairie.

The Jackson County Parks Department will close its Sugar Pine, Grizzly Park, Klum Landing and Willow Point campgrounds at Howard Prairie Sept. 4, about four or five weeks earlier than normal, parks Manager Steve Lambert said. All have no or unusable boat ramps, he said.

“You lose your boat ramps, the use drops off like a rock,” Lambert said.

The Howard Prairie Resort marina is high and dry, and county crews have suspended any boat and moorage rentals, Lambert said.

The ramp still had about 4 feet of water at its tongue Friday, and smaller boats should be able to launch there through Labor Day, but navigational hazards await, he said.

Limping into this fall’s filling season also reduces the likelihood that the Bureau of Reclamation projects will refill next year.

Pendleton said it would take a year like 2016-17’s snowpack in the 150 percent of normal range to generate enough runoff to refill the reservoirs.

“That would get us back in the hunt, back in the fight,” Pendleton said.

The worst conditions likely will be at Hyatt Lake, which was listed Friday at 16 percent full and forecast to bottom out at less than 1,000 acre-feet of water, or about 5 percent of capacity, Pendleton said. That’s about the level it ended up in the fall of 2014.

Emigrant Lake is forecast to be down as low as 8 percent of capacity, slightly above its 6 percent level of 2014.

That year, the water level was so low it exposed the old Klamath Junction, a 1920s-era intersection of Highway 66 and the old Siskiyou Highway that contained a gas station, store and other buildings.

Remnants of those buildings, including their foundations, were high and dry and enticed the bureau to catalog the finds as potential historical sites.

“I’m almost sure you’ll get to see that (intersection) again,” Pendleton said.

Howard Prairie is faring best, largely because infrastructure there allows TID to draw no more than 60 cubic feet per second of water. It was listed Friday at 44 percent full and forecast to bottom out at about one-third full, slightly higher than in 2014.

While the reservoir levels are dropping significantly, there are no plans to alter this fall’s trout stocking schedule or angling limits.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife occasionally raises or eliminates trout limits when lakes drop so low that a fish die-off is likely. The agency did so last week at Thief Valley Reservoir in northeast Oregon.

The agency considered changing or lifting trout limits at Hyatt and Howard Prairie in 2014, but even Hyatt Lake didn’t have a trout die-off amid the low conditions.

“I’m not planning on doing anything different,” said Dan VanDyke, ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist.

Plans for October stocking of fingerling trout are also unchanged as of now, VanDyke said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Mail Tribune file photoDocks rest in the mud at Howard Prairie Lake's marina following the 2014 drought year.{ }