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Snowpack runoff swells Crooked River, causing floods in Upper Country, Prineville

LON AUSTIN - Crooked River waters flooded a portion of Paulina Highway near milepost 16 on Tuesday.

A stretch of road along Paulina Highway was reduced to one lane of traffic as the other half of the road disappeared under the water.

In town, a local golf course saw flood waters swallow up enough of the course to render three holes unplayable.

Following a record-shattering snowstorm in late February that bolstered the mountain snowpack and dumped two feet of snow or more at lower elevations, warmer weather and heavy rains have sent water into the local watershed at a rapid rate.

On Tuesday, Crooked River inflows to Prineville Reservoir had reached 8,000 cubic feet per second, prompting the Bureau of Reclamation to release the maximum amount of water possible, 3,000 cfs out of Bowman Dam and down toward Prineville.

The high river levels caused a small stretch of Paulina Highway at milepost 16 to flood, water covering one lane of traffic Tuesday. ODOT officials flagged the highway from that morning through Wednesday, and while the agency saw a possibility of increased flooding, it never had to close the road completely.

"It has not been raining as much out there as it was (Monday), so the river is starting to slow down a little bit," Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan said Tuesday afternoon. "There are no bridges in danger. There are no other sections in the road (in danger of flooding)."

He added that any road closure decision by ODOT would likely be done in conjunction with Crook County because of the travel problems it would create for area residents.

"Currently, you cannot go up into the Ochocos and bypass the highway that way," Ryan said, "because there is too much snow up there."

In Prineville, the water level in Crooked River was noticeably higher Tuesday and had breached the shore near Meadow Lakes Golf Course, submerging a portion of the course. According to Director Zach Lampert, one bridge was closed, and one hole was closed, and two others were altered to avoid flood waters.

"We can still play most of the golf course," he added. "It's manageable. There are some things we are trying to do just to piecemeal it together for as long as we have to."

So far, the flooding has not caused any significant financial issues for the golf course, but Lampert said it could if it continues for a prolonged period of time. He hopes that the situation will play out like it did a couple years ago when flooding only lasted a few days. He points out that if the releases from Bowman Dam drop back to 2,800 cfs or less, that typically eliminates their flooding issues.

The river levels were addressed briefly during a Prineville City Council meeting Tuesday evening. City Manager Steve Forrester noted the inflows and the maximum release out of Bowman Dam and what has resulted in town.

He then went on to note that the reservoir is built for flood control and stressed that while the high water levels have caused problems, particularly for the golf course, things could be much worse.

"Thank God we have the reservoir because if you can imagine having roughly two and a half times the water in the Crooked River at Meadow Lakes, obviously Prineville would be in big, big trouble," he said.

Mike Kasberger, assistant city engineer, spoke as well. Having worked previously as the Ochoco Irrigation District manager, he was able to provide some insight into what local residents can expect in the weeks ahead.

"We have as much water content in the snow on the Prineville side (of Bowman Dam) as we normally would at the peak of the season," he said. "I would expect that we will see these flows for at least another month. I don't know if it will be 3,000 (cfs) for another month, but the river won't be back to normal until probably early June."

While that is the case, Prineville Reservoir remains a viable source of flood control. Ryan learned from Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Bruce Scanlon Tuesday that it is was at 80 percent capacity, and "we could go quite a way with the current river flow the way it is."

By Thursday, the Crooked River above Prineville Reservoir had stabilized and inflows to the reservoir had dropped to 3,000 cfs. Outflows remained at 3,000 cfs.

The weather outlook for the immediate future is drier than the past week, with the recent storms expected to slow and give way to more sunshine. In addition, higher elevation temperatures are expected to drop into the 20s, which Ryan said will help refreeze some of the snowpack.

"That will slow the runoff considerably, which is what we want to see happen right now," he said.

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