Yesterday, Jeff Perin of The Fly Fishers Place in Sisters had a Facebook post about flows out of Prineville Reservoir into the Crooked River being too high. They are certainly too high for any fishing. The flows into the reservoir are 1,625 cfs but the flows out are 2,662 cfs. So, what gives? I have not talked to anyone at the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) about this, and am loathe to defend them given their record of almost never adequately considering fish and wildlife in their release decisions, but I don’t think that the current release level into the Crooked is too high for the current conditions – although it certainly reached what could be disastrous levels for trout just a few days ago.
Below is the release graph as of today. It clearly shows that the Crooked breached the 3,000 cfs threshold for about 72 hours earlier this week. Releases around 3,000 cfs will cause gas bubble disease, which in the past has decimated trout populations on the Crooked. So, it seems likely that fish populations in the Crooked have recently been impacted again.
Clearly, this is not good news, but I can’t fault BoR too much. Below is the graph of flows into the reservoir over the same time period. Flows of almost 8,000 cfs coming into the reservoir got BoR’s attention and they started dumping so as to not have the reservoir completely fill. A full reservoir would be even worse news for fish if flows starting coming over the spillway. That would further increase the amount of water in the river and dramatically increase turbulence, making the gas bubble disease problem even worse.
In his Facebook post Jeff pointed out the flows into the reservoir have tapered off while the BoR has been slower to reduce flows into the river. The problem is that the Ochocos are still filled with snow and another rain on snow event could spike the flows back up – and rain is in the forecast. As the chart below shows, the “snow water equivalent” (amount of water held in the snow) in the Ochocos is still well above normal and another high flow event into Prineville Reservoir could occur. The green lines show 30 year average and 30 year median levels while the black line is this year.
I usually take an adversarial position with the BoR, but I think there’s merit to their actions (this time). Global heating is causing extreme weather events, like massive snowfalls followed by rain on snow events. This is exactly what caused the recent flooding in the Midwest and the recent high flows into Prineville Reservoir. We are going to have to learn to live with it.
My complaint is that if the BoR determined that it was absolutely necessary to get flows up to 3,000 cfs in order to protect the City of Prineville from possible flooding, the ramp up should have been slower. The river levels were almost doubled in 24 hours. In just one hour the morning of April 9 the flows increased from 2,280 to 2,920 and then a few hours later to 3,020, about the level where gas bubble disease is introduced. A slower ramp could be helpful to fish and wildlife.