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Jackson County to replace marina stranded on dry land

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Jamie Lusch/Mail TribuneThe docks for the marina at Howard Prairie Lake are high and dry.
New boat dock coming to Howard Prairie Lake

Jackson County is taking advantage of historically low water levels at Howard Prairie Lake to replace a marina that often ends up stranded on dry land.

The board walkways and boat dock were built decades ago in a shallow part of the lake.

Although it's still spring, the marina is on dry land.

Howard Prairie Lake is only 10% full as Jackson County continues to struggle with drought conditions that have left local reservoirs short of water.

Plans call for building a new marina in a deeper part of the lake which, in regular years, will have enough water.

With the lake so low, that area is dry, too.

"Most of the work that we need to do is a lot easier to do when the lake bed is exposed," said Jackson County Roads and Parks Department Program Director Steve Lambert.

Using equipment on the ground is easier and cheaper than having to use a barge, he said.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Howard Prairie Lake is at historically low levels, leaving the marina at Howard Prairie Resort high and dry again this year. The county plans to build a new marina in a deeper part of the lake to improve boating opportunities at the reservoir.

The county has wanted to replace the often-dry marina for years, but it doesn't have enough grants to cover the full $5 million to $5.5 million estimated cost of the project.

The county has $2.5 million in grants from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildife and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and anticipates being able to get more funding through the Oregon State Marine Board, Lambert said.

But the county is in danger of losing the grant money it's already won if it doesn't move forward with the project.

This month, Jackson County commissioners authorized spending up to $3 million to supplement the grant funding and carry out the marina replacement.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said Howard Prairie Lake is a popular recreation area and he thinks the public will appreciate having a new marina. He said he hopes more grant funding will come through and the county won't have to spend the full $3 million.

Lambert said the new marina will be wheelchair-accessible and will be made of sustainable materials that are more efficient to maintain. It will make the county-run Howard Prairie Resort even more of a destination, generating more support for the store, restaurant and campground there.

The marina, store and restaurant will not open in 2021 due to low water levels, according to the county.

There could still be low-water years when the new marina is dry for part of the year, but it should be functional for at least part of those seasons, Lambert said.

The county plans to start applying for permits immediately to carry out the project, then start on-the-ground work, he said.

"Our goal is if the lake is full next year, we'll be able to have a usable marina. But it's obviously going to take a little help from Mother Nature on that," Lambert said.

A network of reservoirs east of Ashland that includes Howard Prairie Lake is key for both recreation and irrigation.

Local irrigation districts have already warned farmers, orchardists, vineyard owners and others to be prepared for a short irrigation season due to ongoing drought.

As of this week, Emigrant Lake was 29% full, Hyatt Lake was at 23%, Fish Lake was 45% full and Fourmile Lake was 26% full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

The southeastern portion of Jackson County has been especially hard-hit by drought.

Agate Lake north of Medford is 100% full, according to Bureau of Reclamation data.

Lost Creek Lake, which is fed by the Rogue River northeast of Shady Cove, is 78% full, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.