By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a water bandit in Crook County.

One or more vandals last month turned a valve on the dam holding back Peterson Creek Reservoir, opening the head gate and almost completely draining the private reservoir east of Prineville, said Mike McCabe, Crook County judge. He said whoever released the reservoir’s waters did not do it accidentally.

“They had to have a great big wrench and open it up,” he said.

Peterson Creek Reservoir can hold up to 50 acre-feet of water, or enough to submerge 50 acres a foot deep in water. McCabe said the opening of the head gate let 35 to 40 acre-feet of water roll down Peterson Creek, which leads into the North Fork of the Crooked River. The water was being held for irrigation. One acre-foot is equivalent to 326,000 gallons, so about 11.4 million to 13 million gallons of water flowed from the reservoir.

“They lost 75 to 80 percent of the water,” he said. Photos of the reservoir taken April 14 and provided Monday by the Crook County Sheriff’s Office show a small pool of water ringed by exposed reservoir bottom.

The draining of the reservoir comes as Crook County is in its second consecutive year of drought emergency as declared by the Oregon governor’s office. Gov. Kate Brown declared a drought emergency in Crook County on April 6.

Given the dry nature of Crook County right now, the reservoir vandalism is unfortunate, said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department in Bend.

“It is very unusual for something like this to happen,” Gorman said.

East of Big Summit Prairie, the reservoir sits on land in the estate of late Central Oregon tire baron Les Schwab, McCabe said. Schwab’s granddaughter, Julie Waibel, and her husband, Brad Waibel, currently rent the land.

The Waibels were in the news last month after they closed off public access to part of Teaters Road, saying they wanted to prevent the continued misuse of the road by the general public. Leading to public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, the road crosses over miles of private land off state Highway 380, the Paulina Highway. The road is not used to access the reservoir.

The BLM news release announcing the road closure came out April 13.

While the closure of the road, which had been used for decades by hunters and hikers, created some controversy in Crook County, authorities said there was no apparent link between the road closure and the reservoir draining.

The reservoir was drained sometime last month, with the head gate opened and the water left to pour out.

“They figure it was open for two weeks,” McCabe said. No one lives near the reservoir and the situation was discovered when someone checked on it.

Deputies investigating the case do not have a clear motive for why anyone would empty the reservoir, said Crook County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Dethman .

“They were just letting water out,” he said. “For whatever reason, I don’t know.”

McCabe said the Waibels are offering the reward for information about the vandalism. Anyone with information should contact Sheriff’s Sgt. James Savage at 541-447-6398.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,