Water year start mixed

Northwest mountains get snow; some areas miss out on precipitation


Capital Press

Some basins in the West are off to a strong start in snow accumulation early this water year, but others are already in danger of falling behind.

Snow levels in some parts of western Oregon and Washington are roughly 50 to 100 percent above average so far in the water year, which began in October.

"We've gotten lots of precipitation and snow up in the mountains," said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for Washington at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

However, several basins on the east side of those states are substantially below average, some by more than 50 percent, according to data collected by NRCS.

"It's a function of the way our storms have been coming in," said Jon Lea, NRCS snow survey supervisor in Portland.

Storm clouds coming in from the Pacific have tended to drift from the southwest to the north, bypassing some areas east of the Cascade Mountains, Lea said.

The Malheur, Harney and Owyhee basins in Oregon and the Spokane and Lower Snake basins in Washington have the lowest snowpack levels in those two states, according to NRCS data.

On the whole, Washington's statewide snowpack level is more than 50 percent above average, while Oregon's statewide snowpack level is about average, according to NRCS data.

The situation is far better than in some Western states, like Nevada and Arizona, where statewide snowpack levels are currently 70 to 80 percent below average, said Lea.

"The Northwest is looking pretty good at this point in time," he said.

Snow conditions in Idaho range from adequate to seriously deficient, according to NRCS data.

Several basins in the central part of the state have nearly average snow levels, with the Little Lost and Birch basins surpassing the average by more than 20 percent.

However, most of the basins in Idaho are seeing below-average snowpacks.

The Willow, Blackfoot and Portneuf basins at the eastern edge of the state are faring the worst, with snow levels at roughly 70 percent below average.

"Send the storms this way," said Ron Abramovich, NRCS water supply specialist for Idaho.

The state actually received significant snow in October, but dried out in November, he said.

There's still time for Idaho to achieve normal snowpack this water year, but hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later, Abramovich said.

"We like to stay ahead of the eight ball," he said. "We don't like to be behind the eight ball and play catch-up the rest of the season."

In California, the winter weather has not yet kicked up enough for snow levels to provide much insight into the water year, said Frank Gehrke, chief snow surveyor for the state Department of Water Resources.

"It's too early for that to be a consideration," Gehrke said.

In terms of rainfall, precipitation was above average in October but has lately fallen behind, according to data collected by the department.

However, that doesn't portend much about water availability, he said.

"Because it's so early in the season, it could be either way at this point."

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