YAKIMA, Wash. — The managers of irrigation districts, just beginning to fill canals and pipes with water, are growing concerned about having enough water this summer.
Statewide snowpack dropped from 90% of normal on March 1 to 80% of normal on April 1 because of a dry March.
The Yakima Basin received just 6.53 inches of precipitation for the month, which is 31% of average, said Chris Lynch, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist in Yakima.
Five mountain reservoirs that serve the basin were at 516,328 acre-feet of water on April 1, which is 48% of capacity and 77.8% of average for this time of year.
“We are very wary. It looks like we went backward in March,” said Scott Revell, manager of the Roza Irrigation District in Sunnyside. The district serves 1,700 growers on 72,000 acres from Selah to Benton City and is the hardest hit in droughts. It turned off water for several weeks during the drought of 2015 in which farmers lost crops.
“We updated our drought protocol back in December from lessons learned in 2015 and we’ve been working with DOE (state Department of Ecology) on emergency drought well issues. Planning never ends,” Revell said.
The district is filling its 95 miles of canal and more than 350 miles of laterals with water and will deliver first water to growers around April 9.
Preparation has been unusual in that an excavator was still breaking up snow and ice in the Roza canal on April 1. The canal, just north of Sunnyside, was still packed with snow from the Feb. 9 blizzard that killed 1,810 dairy cows in the same area.
Scott Pattee, water supply specialist at the Washington Snow Survey Office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon, said while statewide snowpack is 80% of normal another type of measurement shows the state at 75% the snow it should have.
The state received 15-35% of normal precipitation in March, he said.
“If we don’t get substantial rain in the next few weeks, we will be hurting. I can’t say the D word (drought), but the longer we go without substantial precipitation the better odds are we will have a water-short year,” Pattee said.
“I think we can still recover but we are also pretty far along so we have less chance of recovery,” Lynch said. “So most likely there will be some water shortages.”
Recovery could happen, Lynch said, if good rains and more high-mountain snow come soon, temperatures don’t rise too much too fast, snowpack doesn’t melt too quickly and there are some good rains in May or June.
Several weeks ago, USBR forecast 90% of water supply this season for junior water right holders such as the Roza Irrigation District. That number will soon be updated.
Streamflow forecasts, April 1 through September, were slightly below average in early March and soon will be updated.