U.S. Water News Online
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Farmers in Eastern Washington's Yakima
Valley, hard hit by a drought last year, can expect to receive a full
supply of irrigation water this season, the Bureau of Reclamation
says in its first water supply forecast for 2006.
The bureau delivered the news as yet another snowstorm blew
through the Cascades, where snow pack was 106 percent of average on
March 1. The water supply forecast, based on precipitation, snow pack
and stream flow data, indicates a full supply will be available for
all water users in the Yakima River basin.
"It's the first year we can give a thumbs up to water supply for
everybody" this early, said Chuck Garner, Yakima Project river
operations supervisor for the bureau.
The forecast was far more grim at this time last year. Extremely
poor snow pack levels -- 22 percent of average -- forced the bureau
to estimate the water supply at just 34 percent of average for junior
water users, whose water rights are pro-ratable.
Those irrigators ended up receiving a supply at 42 percent of
average -- slightly above the dire first prediction, but still grave
enough to force some growers to reduce or rotate crops.
The Roza Irrigation District, for one, spent $2.8 million to buy
water for its irrigators, despite shutting down for three weeks in
April and ending its season three weeks early.
The state reimbursed the district for half the money it spent. The
hope is that the district can now rebuild its spending account as the
water supply forecast improves, said Tom Monroe, district operations
"We're really pleased. It's amazing how much the winter storm
patterns have changed from this time last year," Monroe said. "Now,
let's just hope for the best for the rest of the season."
The 2006 forecast resembles that of 2002, which also followed a
severe drought year. Snow pack in March 2002 stood at 105 percent of
The Yakima River basin requires 2.7 million acre feet of water
each year to serve the area's 460,000 irrigated acres. Of that,
roughly 1.7 million acre feet come from the basin's five reservoirs,
with snow pack expected to make up the difference.
By March 1, the basin's reservoirs were at just 38 percent of
capacity. Winter storms that blanketed the mountains with snow have
been followed by warm temperatures, melting the snow a little before
freezing again. Those conditions improve the water content and could
boost the water supply later, Garner said.
"It's a great cycle right now," he said.
Still of concern, though, was the possibility that early warm
temperatures could melt mountain snow too quickly, or that
precipitation could dry up in the coming weeks.
"We have to be a little cautious about runoff," Garner said. "Even
with the big storm in the mountains, if we don't get more
precipitation, we may have to manage our supply more carefully."
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