Crane Prairie Reservoir is a large, shallow reservoir located in central Oregon on the upper Deschutes River, about 42 miles (or 68 kilometers) southwest of Bend. The lake was created in 1922 when the dam was built. It covers an area of 7 square miles (17 square kilometers), and reaches a maximum depth of 20 feet (6 meters).
Etymology and History
Before the dam was built, the area was covered by prairie and served as a habitat for cranes, which also gave the name of the lake.
The lake was created in 1922, by the construction of a rock-filled dam that flooded most of Crane Prairie and parts of the nearby forest, killing many trees. In order to recover timber, the reservoir was drained on a regular basis.
Because of leakage through the original rock-filled dam, in 1940 the Bureau of Reclamation rebuilt the dam as an earthfill structure 36 feet in height and 285 feet in length. When full, the reservoir has a capacity of 55,300 acre feet.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is part of the larger Deschutes Project by the Bureau of Reclamation, which also includes Wickiup Reservoir, Haystack Reservoir, the Crooked River Pumping Plant, and North Unit Main Canal. The project supplies irrigation water for a total of 97,000 acres of land in the vicinity of the town of Madras.
Geography and Hydrology
At full pool, Crane Prairie Reservoir has a maximum depth of only 20 feet and averages 11 feet. Its main inflow is Deschutes River, which flows out of Little Lava Lake for 8.4 miles (13.5 kilometers) before reaching Crane Prairie Reservoir. Deschutes River then leaves the reservoir via the dam and flows South to the Wickiup Reservoir. Other inflows include short streams such as Cultus River, Cultus Creek, Snow Creek, and Quinn Creek, which originate on the eastern slopes of the Cascades.
In late summer, the reservoir is lowered as water for irrigation is withdrawn from it, leaving large areas of the lakebed exposed. The water is moderately alkaline and mineral, slightly higher than the waters of other lakes in the region. However, during the summer the water’s pH level is exceptionally high, and sometimes approaches 10. This is caused by the phytoplankton that reach bloom proportions frequently. Phosphorus concentration in the lake is well above the regional average of other lakes. Aquatic weeds are not as common as they are in other shallow lakes, because of the lake’s big fluctuations in water level. The trophic state of the lake is eutrophic.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is one of the most important wildlife viewing areas in central Oregon.
The lake is dotted with tall stumps that rise from the lake, which provide nesting places for osprey. As a matter of fact, the reservoir is home to the largest nesting colony in the Pacific Northwest. Other species of birds include bald eagles, cormorants, blue herons, kingfishers, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and many others. In 1970, the Crane Prairie Osprey Management Area was established here, in order to protect this special haven.
The nearby forest is home to the mountain chickadee, Williamson's sapsucker, and black-backed woodpecker. On summer mornings or evenings, visitors may catch a glimpse of Rocky Mountain elk grazing on the lakeside meadows. Squirrel, deer, beaver, and the occasional black bear also inhabit the forest.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is very beautiful, surrounded by pine and towering snow-capped volcanoes. The lake is very popular among boating, camping, hiking, and fishing enthusiasts, and it now is one of the largest rainbow trout fisheries in Oregon. Anglers can pursue trophy trout here. The heaviest fish ever caught at the lake weighed 19 pounds (8.6 kilograms).
Besides rainbow trout, other species of fish that can be caught here include brook trout, mountain whitefish, largemouth bass, and kokanee. Best fishing usually takes place in the 3 major arms of the reservoir. Early in the season, fly fishing is very good in the shallow impoundment. There are several boat launches on the lake’s shores.
There are also several good campgrounds around the lake, many of which are available for advanced reservation, and are accessible from roads.
The scenic Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, also known as Oregon's Highway in the Sky, is located just west of Crane Prairie Reservoir.