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Ochoco Irrigation District will be pumping water out of Ochoco Reservoir because water is so low

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Equipment is put in place to pump water out of the dead pool portion of Ochoco Reservoir and into the irrigation system for customers that rely on the water.

Ongoing drought conditions in Crook County have prompted officials overseeing both local reservoirs to reach out to the public regarding water shortages.

Last week, Ochoco Irrigation District announced that it will have to pump water out of its reservoir to continue supplying its irrigators during the rest of the summer.

"In the midst of exceptional drought conditions and record low storage, this action is necessary to prevent crop damage in parts of the district," OID announced in an emailed statement. "Pumping water into the tower is necessary because in the mid-1990s, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) made safety of dams modifications to the inlet tower on Ochoco Dam. The modification raised the inlet on the tower 28 feet and created what is called a 'dead pool.' This 5,000-acre feet of OID water is stranded and unable to be diverted except by pumping."

OID officials went on to explain that BOR provided for this contingency when they made the changes to the dam, but the district has never faced such a low water year. They added that creeks that feed the reservoir have been dried up for more than a month, and inflows to Ochoco Reservoir from Ochoco Creek and Mill Creek have been essentially nonexistent since early June.

"Streamflow forecasts from the River Forecaster Center predict zero inflows for the next three months," OID stated. "Pumping is expected to last until the first part of September. The district anticipates that approximately 2,500-acre feet of water will remain in the reservoir following the end of irrigation season."

During the same week, state officials reached out to the public regarding low water in Prineville Reservoir and what that means for recreation during the remainder of the summer. The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Reclamation and Oregon Marine Board said that the reservoir is more accessible for small watercraft, such as canoes, kayaks, paddle boards and inflatables, and they warned that the ramp slope and drop-off poses a risk to trailered motorboats for safe launching and retrieving.

"We don't typically see water levels this low until November or December," said Prineville Reservoir State Park Manager Chris Gerdes. "It's going to be a long walk to get to the water."

Low water levels also mean fewer places to launch a boat. The boat ramps at Powderhouse Cove and Jasper Point are closed, and only one lane of the boat ramp in the main day-use area at Prineville Reservoir is open.

The Roberts Bay East and county boat ramps are open but only safe for small, non-motorized watercraft to launch.

Officials added that at Prineville Reservoir State Park, visitors will notice the swimming area is no longer protected by floating docks.

"We had to remove them when the water level dropped so low," Gerdes said. "The usual swim area is dry, exposing the rocks and muddy bottom beneath."

Low water levels also have limited availability of potable water in the Prineville Reservoir campground. Campground showers are on limited hours, and the flush restroom facilities in the day-use area are closed (vault toilets available). If the water shortages continue, park officials may need to close additional flush restrooms and showers and limit water to RV sites.

As of last week, Prineville Reservoir was about 40% full, and Ochoco Reservoir was at about 13% capacity.

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