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Low water reveals dangerous reefs at Prineville Reservoir

At one place, in the middle of Prineville Reservoir about a mile from Bowman Dam, a stretch of rock has surfaced a foot or so out of the water. More rocks are barely visible under the water around the spot. Colorful bouys mark the shallows, but a marine patrol officer says even that isn't enough. "There are rocks showing up that we don't even know about." Caution and staying far offshore are the only answers.
One of the biggest weekends of the summer is about to fill the two local reservoirs with fishing boats, waterskiing boats, cruising boats and more boats. Normally, this is mostly a time the Crook County Marine Patrol officers work at maintaining safe conditions on the water. But this summer won't be normal ... the level of the reservoirs is dropping and that adds new problems.
   As of Thursday morning, the in-flow into Prineville Reservoir was about 26 cubic feet per second, and approximately 222 cfs was being released down the Crooked River. That means the level of the reservoir behind Bowman Dam is slowly falling. And that means there are a lot of rocks showing up that are usually safely under water.
   Marine Patrol Officer Sam Forney and his crew have marked a number of these danger spots, but he says they can't mark them all. It becomes very important that boaters traveling more than five mph use caution and stay at least 200 feet from the shoreline.
   "If people don't stay 200 feet offshore, people will get hurt," Forney warned. "At five mph, a boat bumping a rock and it might scrape some paint off. But anything more than that and it'll cause damage."
   Waverunners or Jetski type boats are the real concern. "They go so fast, if they hit one of those half submerged rocks, it)s all over," Forney said. Unfortunately, he added, people on Waverunners see a little water and think it's safe." Pointing to a dark brown shape just inches under the surface of the water, he shook his head. "Some of those Waverunners go 40 or 50 miles per hour. Can you imagine hitting something like that at that speed?"
   Another factor is the lack of water in other lakes and reservoirs. "This year we do have water," Forney explained, "Detroit and those lakes on the west side don't, so boaters will be coming over here and we'll be crowded." And those boaters won't know where the shallows are.
   In one spot, right in the middle of a wide place about a mile from the dam, with Bear Creek off to the left, a stretch of rock has surfaced a foot or so out of the water. More rocks are barely visible under the water around the spot. Colorful bouys mark the shallows, but Forney said even that isn't enough. One problem is fishermen who tie their boat off to the bouy and slowly pull the 50 pound anchor free. The bouy then drifts away, Forney said.
   But the bigger concern, Forney said, is about waterskiiers who like to get out on the water after dark. "Even with the markers and observers, they would never see the rocks until it's too late. And every day, as the water goes down, we're finding rocks we didn't even know about."
   The only answer, the marine officer says, is for boaters to use great caution and stay at least 200 feet off the shore. Even that won't always be safe, he added, but there should be fewer rocks that far from the shoreline.
   Recreational boaters are not facing low water issues alone
   Boaters aren' the only people that will be impacted by the receding waters of the two local reservoirs. As of Wednesday, the in-flow into Prineville Reservoir was 26 cubic feet per second, and 222 cfs was being released down the Crooked River.
   Ochoco still gaining a bit, trying to hold it back. At the present time the reservoir is just a bit below half full with 118 cfs being released into the irrigation canals and Ochoco Creek, and only about 12 cfs coming in.
   Russell Rhoden,manager of the Ochoco Irrigation District has taken up the call to conserve water, reminding everyone that OID supplies a number of subdivisions in the area and well as irrigators. "We are asking these people to conserve their water ... respect your neighbors," Rhoden urged.