Usually by this time of year, Rimrock Lake Resort is ready for the summer season.
Instead, only three of the eight floating docks are moored in place, the swimming cove alongside the lake is dry and people launching boats are going to have to back down farther to reach the water.
The problem is, Rimrock Lake is at less than 80 percent of its capacity. And Debbie Stone, the resort’s manager, said that may put a damper on the summer.
“Oh my God, what a disaster,” Stone said. “It’s about 18 feet from where it normally is.”
And, she said, it doesn’t look like things will get better, at least from the lake’s perspective.
A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official said the low levels are the result of a perfect storm of insufficient water from last year, poor snowfall this winter and demand for irrigation water out of the reservoir this year.
“The snow that would normally melt in June is not happening. That’s why we’re using reservoir storage now,” said Chris Lynch, a hydraulic engineer with the BOR’s Yakima Field Office.
While lowering the lake level may not be what Stone and others who use the lake for recreation want to see, Lynch said irrigation is the main mission for Rimrock and other lakes that form the Yakima River Basin’s storage system.
As of Friday, the system — which includes Rimrock, Bumping, Cle Elum, Kachess and Keechelus lakes — was at 81 percent capacity.
On average, Rimrock Lake is at 94 percent capacity this time of year, according to BOR data. Bumping Lake is at 94 percent capacity, slightly above its average for the first week of June, while Keechelus is at only 66 percent of capacity.
Stone, who’s been at Rimrock Lake Resort for 10 years, said she has never seen it like this so early in June.
Lynch said the Yakima River Basin’s reservoir system started the water year, which begins Oct. 1, with reservoirs at below-normal levels. Then, winter mountain runoff did not come in the usual amounts.
And that was followed by less-than-normal snowfall in the Cascades. BOR officials said that while the Yakima Valley saw a lot of snow late this winter when a blizzard blew through the Valley, the Cascades did not get as much precipitation, as the storm missed much of the mountains.
The situation has prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a drought emergency for parts of the state, including the Yakima River Basin. Junior water rights holders in the area have also been informed that they will only get 74 percent of their allotments.
Lynch said that even in good years there is some spring draining on the reservoir, sometimes for flood control as well as aiding fish migration. And right now, the BOR is releasing water for irrigation purposes.
“One of the primary purposes for the reservoir is irrigation,” Lynch said. And under the current conditions, there is a need to release water.
He noted that levels increased slightly last week, going from 78 percent to 80 percent.
The same conditions that are contributing to lower lake levels are affecting the Yakima River, which Lynch said is also running lower than normal. A shoal on the river’s bend right near the East Yakima Avenue bridge that is typically submerged this time of year is dry ground.
However, the river was not so low that it affected the kayaking portions of last week’s Gap 2 Gap race sponsored by the Yakima Greenway Foundation.
Kellie Connaughton, the foundation’s executive director, said there was enough water to float the shallow-draft kayaks used in that leg of the event.
She said that water being released from the lakes into the Naches River was causing turbulence at the confluence with the Yakima River.
While Rimrock Lake Resort will be open for the year, with its cabins and camp sites, Stone worried there might be some cancellations when people see how low the lake is.
“I think (the lake is) about as full as we are going to get, unless some miracle happens,” Stone said.