Like many of you, I have been watching the Bureau of Reclamation graph for Prineville Reservoir and the Crooked River. I also receive notes from the monthly planning meetings that occur between the Ochoco Irrigation District and various agencies. I have been waiting to write about this, but a reader asked about it today and irrigation season starts soon, so here’s what I know and what I anticipate will occur.
As you probably already know, Prineville Reservoir is only 27% full, with low input flows, and snowpack is well below average in the Ochoco Mountains. Ochoco Reservoir is in worse shape at only 13% full. These are historically low numbers. It will be next to impossible for many boats to launch into either reservoir this year. In “normal” years, the reservoirs would be full and possibly spilling water by now. In “good” years, there would be enough snowpack to drain and fill Prineville Reservoir twice after irrigation season starts.
According to the Ochoco Irrigation District Website, releases from Prineville Reservoir will begin April 25, 10 days later than normal. Allocations are currently slated to be 0.50 acre feet per irrigated acre. The normal allocation is 3.00 AF/acre. Allocations from Ochoco Reservoir are still to be determined. Clearly, summertime flows in the Crooked will be lower than normal, exactly how low is still unknown. Allocations determine water releases and they are to be discussed again at OID’s board meeting on April 18th.
In addition to delivering water to patrons, per the terms of the Habitat Conservation Plan, OID must keep enough water in Prineville Reservoir to release 50 CFS after irrigation season (during the winter). So, they have little water to work with. I asked one of the government agencies who manages the releases about potentially cutting back on that 50 CFS winter release requirement and was told that has not been a subject of conversation. I have to believe that some folks are contemplating that.
Here’s my personal forecast for now. The Crooked River from Prineville Reservoir to the last irrigation diversion just below the City of Prineville will be low but at levels that support angling. If we have another hot summer, river temperatures may become an issue and I would not be surprised if ODFW implements afternoon closures later in the summer. Like last year, the Crooked below the City of Prineville, especially below the North Unit Irrigation District diversion near Smith Rocks, will go dry at times. Last year it went dry when Spring Chinook were attempting to move upstream to spawn. Two years in a row of this will be bad news for these fish.
The really ugly scenario is if Prineville Reservoir is essentially drained over the next 12 months and the drought continues. In that case, water deliveries to patrons will either have to be even more drastically curtailed or the winter releases for fish will be.