Brownlee begins refilling sooner than expected

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald

By JAYSON JACOBY

jjacoby@bakercityherald.com

Brownlee Reservoir's big drawdown has shrunk.

And the reservoir itself is expanding.

Which is the happiest bit of news so far this spring for boaters and anglers who congregate at the 53-mile-long reservoir that forms the boundary between Oregon and Idaho.

In mid April the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Idaho Power Co., which owns and operates Brownlee Dam, to prepare to lower the reservoir to 63 feet below full by the end of April.

Brownlee is a vital part of the Corps of Engineers flood-control system along the Snake and Columbia rivers. The federal agency uses the reservoir as temporary storage for spring runoff, reducing the risk of flooding downstream.

But unseasonably hot temperatures in late April eroded the mountain snowpack, easing flooding concerns.

As a result, the Corps of Engineers allowed Idaho Power to start refilling Brownlee on Monday.

The reservoir is about 42 feet below full today.

Idaho Power expects Brownlee to rise to about 32 feet below full by May 15. At that level the boat ramp at Baker County's Hewitt Park near Richland would be usable.

The only public boat ramp available now is at Idaho Power's Woodhead Park on the Idaho side.

Idaho Power doesn't have a projection for Brownlee's level during the Memorial Day weekend, said Brad Bowlin, a spokesman for the company.

Idaho Power prefers to have the reservoir full or nearly so by the holiday weekend.

The turbines in Brownlee Dam work more efficiently when the reservoir is full.

Updated water levels, temperatures and other information are available at Idaho Power's website, www.idahopower.com . Under the "Our Environment" pull-down menu, click on "water information." The information also is available via a toll-free phone number, 1-800-422-3143.

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The Baker City Herald
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