Snowpack levels are looking better

Heavier snowpack amounts will help Crook County this summer

by: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Shown above: Water leaves the Prineville Reservoir on its way to irrigation canals.

With the recent storms that have passed through the vicinity, this year's snowpack report is looking good, indicating plenty of the wet stuff for the summer's irrigation and water sports.
   "We're looking very well, it's been cold enough that it's coming out very slowly," Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) Manager Mike Kasberger said. "The reservoirs are not full, and the creek and the river are running at very moderate levels. We expect that to pick up depending on how it comes out of the mountains, but we don't know exactly when."
   Comparatively, at this time in 2007, Ochoco Meadows had 9.4 inches of average snow depth, while this year, at the same site, there is an average of 33 inches of snow.
   The Marks Creek site is also a predictor for the Ochoco Reservoir. Last year at this time, it had zero inches of snowpack. This year, with help of the late snow storms blowing through, Marks Creek has an average depth of 14.4 inches of snow.
   Looking south to Prineville Reservoir, OID keeps tabs on Derr Meadows which flows into the manmade lake. This year, the reports are showing 43 inches of snowpack at the site, while there was only 26 inches in 2007.
   "Last year was very dry," Kasberger said. "At the end of the season, the reservoirs were very low. We made it out by the skin of our teeth. This year we're in a much better position."
   Even with the water levels barely making it through the summer, local farmers mentioned that they were not put on an irrigation restriction, signifying that the levels were not as bad as they could have been.
   "What happened last year, as compared to this year, the reservoirs were full. The outlook was good because we had enough water for the season, but the snowpack wasn't there," Kasberger continued. "The inflows diminished very quickly so the reservoirs went down very quickly. Here this year, we have the snowpack. In the beginning of the season, there will be enough inflow so that the reservoirs won't drop dramatically early in the season."
   While the day-to-day concerns of the OID revolve around incoming and outgoing water, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is taking a look at the ability of the Bowman Dam at Prineville Reservoir to withstand a flood of biblical proportions.
   "It has the hydrological risk of overtopping in a major flood," said Operation Maintenance Facility Manager Leo Bush of the Bureau of Reclamation's Bend Field Office. "We've evaluated the hydrological aspects of the watershed in relation to the dam and determined that we have to take steps to protect the dam, and especially protect the people below. It's a flood of the magnitude of up to 100,000 year type flood event."
   Currently, the BOR has theorized the catastrophe with 20,000 possibilities and they are in the planning stages of modifying the existing dam to withstand massive floodwaters.
   "The dam is a safe dam. It's just that hydrologically it is at risk if that flood were to ever occur," Bush continued. "Sometimes things happen that we don't want to have happen. We look at all different types of events that could happen to the facility and try to prepare for them."
   Bush added that while the dam is doing its job well with no damage to report, modifications to assist the dam in restraining a colossal flood will more than likely start to take place in a few years.
   "There's a lot of work that needs to be done," he said. "We're just getting the plans made up with the preferred alternative and the associated costs. Then we have to look at our funding. We're still looking out there beyond 2011 and 2012."