More water spurs concerns

A fat High Cascades snowpack and a need to drop Lost Creek Lake's surface level about 7 feet more than normal this year for flood-control efforts next winter has federal water managers planning the highest sustained summer water releases into the upper Rogue River in 12 years.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' draft release plan at Lost Creek dam will mean faster rafting trips on the upper Rogue, shorter availability of the boat launch at Stewart State Park and more concerns about the safety of inexperienced Rogue rafters in popular inflatable kayaks, authorities say.

"I'm not looking forward to this summer," said Jackson County Sheriff's Lt. Pat Rowland, who manages the county's marine patrol program. "The experienced rafters have no problem. It's the novices I'm worried about. It's high, but they don't appreciate the water and what it can do to you.

"At least we have to get them to wear their life jackets," Rowland said.

Corps hydrologists working with state biologists and water regulators annually draft plans that guide how they release water from Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs primarily to benefit downstream fishery needs and secondarily benefit recreation as outlined in the Congressional act that created Jackson County's two largest reservoirs.

Corps officials will present the two plans and take public comment on them during a meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Rogue Regency Inn, 2300 Biddle Road, Medford.

The draw-down at Lost Creek will be such that the popular Lost Creek Lake Marina ramp will be close to high and dry by August's end of the traditional summer boating season.

"This year we'll do everything we can to make that ramp usable through Labor Day weekend," said Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin operations manager. "Beyond that, I don't know how long it will be usable." (Correction: Buck's statement has been corrected to accurately reflect the season the ramp will be available.)

The Takelma Park ramp off Takelma Drive near the dam's northern edge was built to be usable year-round regardless of flow level.

The draft calls for releasing no less than 3,000 cubic feet per second through Lost Creek dam and into the upper Rogue from June 1 through Aug. 10.

Those flows are about 25 percent higher than last year and the highest since 1999, when flows were greater than 3,000 cfs through June and July — including two days of releases of more than 4,000 cfs, Corps records show.

"Three-thousand (cfs) is not that bad," says Carol Enriquez, who is prepping for summer visitors to her Rapid Pleasure raft-rental livery in Shady Cove.

At those flows, the typical 11-mile float from Cole Rivers Hatchery to Shady Cove would take about 21/2 hours instead of 3 hours, Enriquez said. The upstream van ride to the launch ramp likely will include more safety talk, and Enriquez expects to steer rookies into safer boats than inflatable kayaks such as Tahitis.

"When the flow is high like that, we tell inexperienced people in Tahitis to take rafts," Enriquez said.

One of the primary concerns about higher summer flows is that it pushes more current into or directly under streamside trees or downed logs, creating "strainers" that can sink boats.

The marine patrol program has a contractor with a chainsaw ready to remove any dangerous strainers such as one deputies removed recently from the debris-laden stretch of the Rogue near where Gold Ray Dam was removed from the Rogue last summer, Rowland said.

Beginning Aug. 11, flows would ratchet down to 1,000 cfs. The draft plan calls for releases from Applegate Lake to hold at 370 cfs for much of the summer.

The high releases are necessary for two reasons — one natural and one man-made.

La Nina weather conditions this winter dumped heaps of snow in the Cascades, and the Rogue Basin snowpack remains 106 percent of average, meaning more water will pass through the reservoir than normal.

"We have a very robust water supply," Buck said.

Compounding nature's bounty was last fall's discovery that the dam's potentially flawed radial gates used for flood control when the lake is close to full could fail to work properly if needed.

The gates have been used only once — during the 1997 New Year's Day flood — and they operated flawlessly. But inspections show they could fail to operate properly should water rise into the top 12 feet of the lake and place pressure on the gates.

The gates are in line for repairs, but they're behind other Corps projects in the Northwest with similar designs. Until fixed, Corps officials plan to lower the reservoir more than normal.

To get there, the Corps plans to release 20,000 more acre-feet of water than normal, with 10,000 acre-feet spilled in the summer and the remaining 10,000 acre-feet beginning in mid-November.

Not only will that draw the reservoir down faster, it will also leave the surface elevation at just under 1,804 feet above sea level Dec. 1, the start of the Corps' flood-control season in the Rogue basin.

The normal Dec. 1 level is 1,812 feet above sea level, which is also the lowest point for regular use of the boat ramp at Stewart State Park.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at

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