Reservoir water-release plan up for public review

Thanks to late storms that inched the Rogue River Basin snowpack slightly above average, state fishery managers expect to spill enough water from Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs at critical times to minimize losses from two runs of Rogue chinook salmon this summer.

Boosted flows from Lost Creek into the Rogue through June should allow all but 4 percent of the spring chinook run to survive migration through the warm waters of the Rogue River Canyon and reach the upper Rogue safely, according to draft Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife projections.

Another series of augmented releases in August and September are expected to keep the number of fall chinook that succumb to natural disease outbreaks caused by low, warm summer flows to around 7 percent, the projections state.

Enough extra water also remains to keep the Rogue a healthy place for juvenile salmon and steelhead rearing in the mainstem Rogue, according to a draft of the water-release schedule.

"That last storm definitely made a big difference, especially in the Applegate," says Tom Satterthwaite, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries scientist who drafted the agency's water-release plan.

"The water in the reservoirs is like a water bank account," Satterthwaite says. "It's simply a question of how to get the biggest bang for your buck from that water."

Like in all years, however, the wild card remains the weather.

"The expectations are that the weather conditions will be normal," Satterthwaite says. "But, if you get a whole month of 100-degree days, it's a whole different ballgame."

The draft plan, to be unveiled during a public meeting tonight in Medford, represents the ODFW's best estimate on how to most effectively use the water stored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifically for Rogue fishery enhancement — the main goal for summer releases from both projects.

The draft release plan represents the ODFW's request for doling out the 175,838 acre-feet of water stored at Lost Creek for fishery-enhancement needs.

The main goal is to provide enough water at the right times to protect migrating spring and fall chinook from dying during an outbreak of columnaris, a natural salmon-killing disease that can run rampant during low and warm summer water conditions.

To do that, the agency expects to spend 65,824 acre-feet of that stored fishery water for spring chinook, then another 55,072 acre-feet will go toward helping migrating fall chinook. Mid-summer releases ensure greater survival of juvenile salmon born this year and rearing in the Rogue until they head to sea as smolts in late summer.

The draft assumes 1,000 acre-feet of water to be lost monthly from evaporation this summer.

"The projects are full and it's setting itself up to be an average year," says Dan VanDyke, the ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist. "That's certainly good news."

The Corps is taking public comments on the draft before finalizing a release plan next month.

This is the eighth consecutive year the plan is based on both Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs starting the season at full. The last time the projects did not fill was in 2001.

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

Share This Story