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Washington snowpack grows a bit

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

The latest read on mountain snowpacks indicates some drought is likely in Washington this summer and would probably be worse on the west side than the east side of the state.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The water availability committee of the governor’s drought task force was to hold its first meeting since 2010 on Feb. 6 because of low snowpack and low streamflow forecasts across Washington state.

“The Department of Ecology called it and is the lead. It’s basically an informational meeting of all state and federal agencies in the state concerned with water and weather management,” said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist of the Washington Snow Survey Office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.

Washington’s snowpack was 55 percent of normal on Feb. 1, an improvement from 44 percent of normal on Jan. 1, but still not enough to avoid some drought conditions this summer, Pattee said.

It would take 150 percent of normal snow for the next two months to catch up to 80 percent of normal for the season and avoid drought, he said. That’s unlikely to happen, he said.

The Oregon snowpack was 38 percent of normal on Feb. 1, Idaho was 71 percent and Northern California was 24 percent, he said.

In Washington, the west side of the state is in the worst shape with the Olympic Mountains at 34 percent of normal. Flower growers near Sequim who depend on the Dungeness River for irrigation may be hurt and fresh water needed to flush oyster and clam beds in Puget Sound may suffer, Pattee said. Forest fire danger could be heightened, he said.

Seattle is 100 percent dependent on surface water for drinking, and other cities, fisheries and power generation all will be areas of concern, he said.

In Eastern Washington, Yakima River reservoirs are in fairly good shape but always of the greatest concern along with uncontrolled rivers to the north like the Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow and Okanogan, he said.

Snowpack for the upper Yakima is 54 percent of normal and the lower Yakima is at 63, he said.

Others: Okanogan, 35; Entiat, 36; Wenatchee, 60; Methow, 50; lower Snake, Clearwater and Blue Mountains, 88.

Snowpack is used for monthly forecasts of upcoming April to September streamflow. So far the Dungeness River is forecast at 56 percent of normal flow and all Olympic Mountain rivers at an average of 50 to 60 percent, Pattee said.

Upper Yakima reservoirs are forecast at 75 percent, the lower Yakima River, from Naches down, is 60 to 70 percent. Ahtanum Creek at Union Gap is 50 percent. The Wenatchee River is 60, Entiat 46 and Methow 42, he said. The south fork of the Walla Walla River is forecast at 91 percent.

These numbers likely will change in March and April and have to be below 75 percent to be considered a drought by Ecology, he said.


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