Crane Prairie Reservoir
- Deschutes County)
(From Atlas of Oregon Lakes, Johnson et al. 1985). Crane Prairie Reservoir is a large, shallow impoundment on the upper Deschutes River in Central Oregon. It is a component of the Deschutes Project, a Bureau of Reclamation project which includes Wickiup Dam and Reservoir, Haystack Dam and Reservoir, North Unit Main Canal and lateral system, and the Crooked River Pumping Plant. The Project furnishes a full supply of irrigation water for about 50,000 acres of land within the North Unit Irrigation District, and a supplemental supply for more than 47,000 acres in the Central Oregon Irrigation District and Crook County Improvement District. These irrigated lands are all in the vicinity of the town of Madras. Storage for the North Unit Irrigation District is provided by Wickiup Reservoir. Releases from the reservoir are diverted from the Deschutes River at North Canal Dam and carried to project lands by the North Unit Main Canal. Water stored in Crane Prairie Reservoir is also diverted by the North Canal Dam into delivery and distribution systems privately built and operated by the Central Oregon Irrigation District and Crook County Improvement District No. I. However, the existence of Crane Prairie Reservoir pre-dates the Reclamation project (Hatton 1980). A rock-filled dam was constructed in 1922 by several local irrigation districts serving lands in the Madras area, principally the Central Oregon Irrigation District. Waters backing up behind the dam flooded most of Crane Prairie and part of the adjacent forest, killing many trees. In order to recover marketable timber from the site, the reservoir was drained periodically. Leakage through the original dam made it unsafe and a new dam was built by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1939 and 1940. It is an earthfill structure 36 feet high and 285 feet long at the crest. The reservoir has a capacity of 55,300 acre-feet when full (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation 1983).
Crane Prairie Reservoir is very shallow and irregularly shaped. It is fed primarily by the Deschutes River, but also by Snow Creek, the Cultus River, Cultus Creek, and Quinn Creek. These tributaries are short streams originating on the east slopes of the Cascades. Prior to flooding, the prairie was home for an abundance of cranes who fished the Deschutes for their food supply. The prairie and then the reservoir assumed the name of the bird. Today the landscape shows the results of flooding the meadow. Tall, bare stumps and limbs like grey ghosts rise from the lake (Hatton 1980). These snags provide nesting places for osprey, large birds that feed on fish in the shallow waters of the reservoir. Crane Prairie is the home of the largest nesting colony in the Pacific Northwest. It is also home to blue herons, cormorants, kingfishers, and many other species of birds. The Crane Prairie Osprey Management Area, covering 10,600 acres, was established in 1970 to preserve this special habitat.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is a very popular site for camping and fishing. Several good Forest Service campgrounds are located around the shoreline, accessible from a number of access roads, and there are several places from which to launch boats. Crane Prairie Resort on the east side rents boats and supplies. Fishing has generally been excellent for large trout, particularly rainbow trout and brook trout. Kokanee, stocked by the state in recent years, also provide good angling. Best fishing is in the three major river arms of the reservoir, where the large trout tend to remain in the summer. Fly fishing is particularly good in the shallow impoundment early in the season. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a decline in the numbers of trout due to a combination of factors, including low water levels and an abundance of fish-eating cormorants. The extent to which these birds deplete the fishery is not precisely known.
As noted, Crane Prairie Reservoir is extremely shallow. At full pool it has an average depth of only 11 feet, and a maximum depth of just over 20 feet. The reservoir is lowered in the late summer by the withdrawal of water for irrigation, thereby exposing extensive areas of mud bottom. The water in the reservoir has a moderate alkalinity and moderate mineral content, slightly higher than other lakes and reservoirs of the region. However, in the summer the pH of the water is exceptionally high, frequently in excess of 9 and at times approaching 10. The high pH is caused by the growth of phytoplankton which frequently reach bloom proportions. The concentration of phosphorus is well above average for Cascade mountain lakes, and encourages algal blooms. The shallow depth of the lake may account for continuing high levels in the summer. The growth of phytoplankton in turn decreases the transparency of the water. Due to the extensive fluctuations in water level, aquatic weeds are not as common as they are in most shallow lakes. Nevertheless, there are extensive beds of Elodea, Ceratophyllum, and Potamogeton in places (McHugh 1972). Crane Prairie Reservoir is eutrophic according to all-indicators, and the high primary productivity supports a productive food chain and contributes to the abundance of fish and waterfowl.