Detroit Lake goes from historically low to “full pool” in one week. Salem Statesman Journal
What a difference a week makes.
Detroit Lake, one of Oregon’s most popular reservoirs, went from historically low to almost completely full in just a few days this week.
Fueled by a burst of heavy spring rain and melting snow, the reservoir level rose 45 feet in five days to reach 1563.5 feet above sea level — its “conservation full pool” typically seen in summer.
The reservoir level was as low as 1,500 feet as recently as April 1.
Detroit Lake will likely continue to rise with the weekend rain and reach above normal levels, before dropping back as floodwaters recede from the Willamette Valley, officials said.
The reservoir is being managed in concert with the other 13 dams in the Willamette River basin, many of which are so full they’ve needed to dump water to avoid overflowing.
“The short term plan is to go above our normal levels as the rivers crest, then step up outflows in a way that brings us back to where we’d normally be this time of year,” said Erik Petersen, operations manager for the Willamette Valley dams project.
Petersen said he was confident Detroit Lake would be at its typical “full pool” level this summer, especially with snowpack above normal in the Willamette Basin.
“I’m a lot more confident now than I was last week,” he said.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a reservoir that was at historically low levels at the beginning of the month.
Everyone from Corps officials to business owners in the Detroit area were worried about levels so low it would bring another economic gut-punch to a region that relies heavily on a full lake to fuel tourism.
A low level in Detroit Lake causes $11 million in negative economic impact, according to a study by Oregon State University updated last summer.
As 4 to 8 inches of rainfall combined with melting snow to cause minor flooding across the Willamette Valley, Detroit Lake held back a whopping 40.7 billion gallons of water behind its dam, preventing more widespread flooding downstream. The reservoir shot up dramatically between April 7 and 11.
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“We’ve seen Detroit Lake fill in a matter of days in the past, but for it to happen this time of year with a major rain event is pretty unusual,” Petersen said.
A high reservoir level generally means more boaters, campers and hikers in the Santiam Canyon and Detroit Lake area during the summer, which fuels multiple businesses.
Detroit Lake also provides drinking water via the North Santiam River for the Salem Metro Area in the summer.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter, photographer and videographer in Oregon for 11 years. To support his work, subscribe to the Statesman Journal. Urness is the author of “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and “Hiking Southern Oregon.” He can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.
Willamette Valley flooding: How does this high water compare to past floods?
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