Businesses around Detroit Lake facing second year of water-level - KPTV - FOX 12

Businesses around Detroit Lake facing second year of water-level worries

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DETROIT LAKE, OR (KPTV) -

For the second straight year, businesses around Detroit Lake, one of the state's most popular summer recreation spots, are preparing to suffer significant losses due to low water levels.

Heading into what is typically his busiest month, Scott Lunski, who owns the Detroit Lake Marina, is instead getting ready to wind down for the season.

"We're going to have to shut down two sections of our docks and move them off," Lunski said.  "We're asking our moorage customers to have their boats out by the 25th of July."

Lunski said it's not quite as bad as last year when he had to pull his docks out of the water and truck them to the other side of the lake to stay in business, but two short seasons in a row is a daunting proposition.

"I can't force them to keep the lake full," Lunski explained, referring to the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages water levels in the reservoir.

The Army Corps' first priority is flood control, so when Detroit Lake started filling up after this year's snow melt, the agency had to release enough water to allow room for spring rains, which didn't arrive this year.

In addition, the Army Corps is required by federal law to release enough water downstream to protect endangered salmon and steelhead below the dam.  The fish come back upriver to spawn in late summer.

"If the flow goes down then those eggs are left high and dry and the fish never hatch, so you wipe out a batch of fish, basically," fly fishing guide Dave Carpenter said.

Carpenter works on the Santiam River and also serves as the River Steward for the Native Fish Society. He said last year's dry weather made for a tough year for fish below the dam.

"The summer steelhead run, I think a lot of them got wiped out, and they just never showed up," Carpenter said.

While the fish are federally protected, businesses around Detroit Lake are not. 

Lunski said he'll have to change his business plan to adapt to the changing conditions, and one possible long-term solution would be to dredge portions of the river he leases from the Army Corps and Forest Service, which would allow him more flexibility with his docks when the water drops. 

Lunski said the dredging would probably cost close to half a million dollars, and he'd like the government to help him defray the costs.

"I think they ought to do what they can to help me make this usable," Lunski.

The federal order that lays out the terms to protect downstream fish is good for another eight years.

Lunski and other interested parties met with lawmakers and federal agencies Wednesday evening to discuss possible solutions to the water worries. 

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