Weather provides Lost Creek Lake users with hope

This year's phenomenon of February-like weather in June has been a boon for Rogue River salmon as well as Lost Creek Lake boaters who are expected to benefit all summer from a healthy water year.

Throughout its 32-year history, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir on the upper Rogue never has been full this late in June, meaning plenty of water remains stored for helping juvenile and adult salmon survive and keeping waterskiers buzzing across the lake well into September.

"We're virtually full right now, maybe an inch below," said Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin operations manager, as the lake hovered at .02 inches shy of its full elevation of 1,872 feet above sea level. "It's really been an exceptional season."

The Corps this week announced a revamped water-release program that takes advantage of the cool, wet June.

At the request of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Corps typically draws the reservoir down in May and June by releasing extra water to help adult spring chinook salmon migrate upstream without suffering outbreaks of warm water-related viruses.

But cool weather and high flows kept that from happening, allowing the Corps to cut its June flows by 20 percent from its expected releases at Lost Creek while keeping the lake full.

"No reservoir storage needed to be spent to minimize disease in spring chinook," said Tom Satterthwaite, an ODFW biologist who helps set summer flows at Lost Creek. "Now, there is an opportunity to apply that instead to keeping fall chinook from disease."

Adult fall chinook begin moving up the Rogue in July, and the Corps' new plan calls for releasing about 10 percent more water from July through early September to aid that migration.

Also, the higher flows should help survival rates among juvenile chinook and steelhead now rearing in the main-stem Rogue, Satterthwaite said.

By an act of Congress, flows beneficial to Rogue salmon and steelhead are a primary target for summer releases at Lost Creek dam, while recreation in the reservoir is considered a secondary benefit that takes a back seat in priority.

The updated release schedule, however, contains a forecast for the Stewart State Park boat ramps to remain operable to mid-September.

These ramps are the main access point for waterskiers, boaters and anglers all summer. Typically, the Corps tries to maintain lake elevations to keep these ramps operational through Labor Day, the traditional end of the summer boating season.

"That's not cast in stone, but that's absolutely a goal," Buck said.

The wet spring, however, did not deter an outbreak of potentially toxic blue-green algae at the reservoir, which has been plagued by outbreaks in recent summers.

The lake has remained under a public-health advisory, issued June 3, that warns people and pets to avoid water contact because toxins associated with the algae can cause sickness in both.

Buck said the lake's water appears to be clearing up, and the Corps is awaiting results of a Tuesday water-quality test to determine whether the advisory can be lifted soon.

Lost Creek and Applegate dams are the Corps' two reservoirs within its Rogue River Basin Project, which provides flood-control and fishery resources in the Rogue and Applegate rivers. They also supply water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses and recreation.

Lost Creek dam also has a small hydropower generation program and one is planned at Applegate.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at

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