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home : current news : current news June 28, 2016

3/18/2014 12:28:00 PM
Sisters Country sees flooding after rains
Rain on snow caused high water, which covered the Suttle Lake marina and flooded The Boathouse Restaurant. photo by Gary Miller
+ click to enlarge
Rain on snow caused high water, which covered the Suttle Lake marina and flooded The Boathouse Restaurant. photo by Gary Miller

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Lakes and creeks in Sisters Country ran exceptionally high last week after steady rainfall on a heavy mantle of snow fed local streams to overflowing.

Suttle Lake rose high enough to cover the marina and flood The Boathouse Restaurant, forcing the resort to close the restaurant to the public. Lake Creek gave its namesake Lake Creek Lodge more waterfront property than was comfortable, rising up under decks but never quite flooding into cabins.

Chef Nate Montgomery said, "We did have it cutting between cabins quite a bit. It's been high for quite a while. It was the highest on Sunday (March 9)."

Even in Sisters, residents of Trapper Point saw high water thanks to the heavy flow of the ephemeral Trout Creek which runs through the area. The "flashy" Whychus Creek, flowed at 900 cubic feet per second, up from 70 to 100 cfs before the event.

Cari Press, Sisters Ranger District hydrologist, described the flooding on Lake Creek as a "10-year-event" which is how hydrologists rate the probability of such an episode.

Fish biologist Mike Riehle noted that a major flood in 1996, which washed out a portion of Highway 20 above Suttle Lake, pushed Lake Creek to 570 to 580 cfs.

"This one was 330, so that's a pretty big event," Riehle said. "The creek has been flowing high, and never really came down to its normal level before this event. Cache Creek was flowing as big as I've ever seen it and I've been here a lot of years."

Some locals wonder whether the logs and rocks placed by the Forest Service at the outlet of Suttle Lake during a dam removal project last year might have contributed to the high water. Both Press and Riehle discounted that possibility.

"Our engineer is confident that it wouldn't have any effect on the way the lake stores water," Riehle said.

Press acknowledged that Sisters Country has seen quite a bit of high water.

"It's not completely clear why we're seeing more of an impact," she said. "It could be climate change; fire could certainly have an effect."

Local residents in the western parts of Sisters Country note that an unusual amount of precipitation has fallen as rain as opposed to snow, and a rain-on-snow event is a recipe for quick melt-off and flooding.

"Usually it's this big rain-on-snow event that you see flooding in town," Press noted.

Fire reduces the ability of soils to absorb water, which could lead to more runoff, but experts are not sure how much of an impact that has actually had.

Riehle noted that man-made fish habitat placed in the Metolius River in recent years survived high water on that stream.

Streams will rise again with normal spring melt-off, but whether there is more flooding to come depends, of course, on the weather.

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