This week's unseasonable rainstorms have swelled underachieving Applegate Lake enough that it should soon fill for the eighth-straight year.

By Mark Freeman

For the Tidings

This week's unseasonable rainstorms have swelled underachieving Applegate Lake enough that it should soon fill for the eighth-straight year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project on the Applegate River was languishing as much as 60 feet from full less than two months ago. But storm runoff in the upper Applegate Basin was strong enough to raise the lake 8 feet during a 72-hour period earlier this week and 11 feet during the first five days of May.

The lake on Thursday was just 4 feet from full, putting it on pace to hit that 100 percent mark by next week.

"What a difference two storms make," said Jim Buck, the Corps' project manager. "The in-flows shot up long enough to get some significant storage."

The 78,000 acre-feet of storage at Applegate will tandem with the also-full 460,000-acre-foot Lost Creek Lake to provide better downstream conditions for migrating salmon and steelhead throughout the summer.

Both Corps projects have filled each spring since the drought of 2001 left both more than 20 feet shy of full.

Applegate's recent surge makes it the latest of local reservoirs to be at or approaching full heading into the irrigation season.

Among the Talent Irrigation District reservoir trio, Hyatt and Emigrant lakes were listed Thursday as 100 percent full and Howard Prairie was listed as 97 percent full by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which built the projects.

"That was a hard-hitting little storm we had," TID Manager Jim Pendleton said. "But we're not complaining. I was sweating a little bit back in February about whether we'd be full. It looks now like Howard Prairie should fill next week."

Within the Little Butte Creek basin, Fourmile Lake was listed as 88 percent full, just ahead of Fish Lake at 86 percent, according to the bureau.

The bureau listed Agate Lake as 101 percent full Thursday.

With a basin-wide snowpack hovering close to average throughout much of the winter, the Applegate sub-basin was something of an anomaly because its high-elevation snow sites routinely measured about two-thirds from normal.

"The upper-elevation snow was really lagging," Buck said. "The Applegate sub-basin just wasn't getting anything."

On April 30, Buck predicted that the reservoir would fall short of full. Then came two storm fronts that jump-started the runoff.

In-flows on March 1 were 350 cubic feet per second of water, or enough to put a football field under 1 foot of water in two minutes.

By 4 p.m. Monday, the flows had almost doubled, to 634 cfs, then shot up and peaked 12 hours later at 2,778 cfs, enough to put that same football field under just shy of 8 feet of water in two minutes.

"Ooh, baby, it was crazy," said John McKelligott, recreation technician for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, which manages the recreation around the reservoir.

McKelligott said the full reservoir should help make the Seattle Bar at the lake's upper end a popular swimming and fishing spot through Memorial Day weekend.

"It should be the best we've had in a while," McKelligott said. "I just don't know how long it's going to last."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.