Drought Conditions Have Led to Quickly Dropping Water Levels at Oregon’s Reservoirs

Recreation is now limited at Prineville Reservoir and Detroit Lake. If conditions persist, you may not even be able to use flush toilets at certain campgrounds.

An unusually warm and dry spring that quickly depleted the state’s snowpack has now limited recreation at several regional reservoirs—and if conditions persist, you may not even be able to use flush toilets at certain campgrounds.

The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation recently announced that anyone headed to Prineville Reservoir in Central Oregon should plan for extremely low water levels. That body of water is only about 40% full, which means there are fewer places to launch a boat. The ramps at Powderhouse Cove and Jasper Point are closed, leaving only one lane operable for larger, motorized watercraft in the main day-use area.

The Roberts Bay East and county boat ramps are open, but should only be used to put in kayaks, canoes and paddle boards.

“We don’t typically see water levels this low until November or December,” said Prineville Reservoir State Park manager Chris Gerdes in a press release. “It’s going to be a long walk to get to the water.”

The swimming area at the reservoir is also affected—gone are the floating docks that normally serve as a perimeter. Those had to be removed once the water dropped low enough to expose the rocky bottom.

Drought has further limited the availability of campground potable water. Showers are open for limited hours, and flush restrooms in the day-use section of the park are off-limits, though recreationalists can access vault toilets. If the shortage continues, park officials say they may need to close additional restrooms and limit water to RV sites.

Prineville Reservoir is not alone. Earlier this month, Detroit Lake Marina had to call off its season since that reservoir is also drying up. The business, which offers boat moorage and rental services, posted on its Facebook page that all watercraft needed to be out of the water by July 18.

The drought is yet another blow to communities in the Santiam Canyon, which suffered extensive damage in last September’s historic wildfires. Nearby, the town of Detroit was practically leveled.

“As many of you know, this year has been a fight to get things going from the ground up,” the marina shared on its social media page. “We have done our best with what we were given but will sadly have to shut down even earlier than anticipated. This is strictly due to the lack of water and the rate the lake is quickly dropping.”

Related: Oregon Now Has its First “Dark Sky Park”