More Water Storage Is the Surest Way to Weather Dry Year

Editorial by Yakima-Herald Republic

12/9/02

Washington State - It's a message we don't think can be repeated enough: The Yakima River Basin desperately needs more water storage capacity. We're reminded of that once again this winter as we look to the west and hope for snow in the mountains to fill those five reservoirs that are the lifeline for this agriculturally diverse area.

And, of course, those folks who depend on well-used ski runs in White and Snoqualmie passes are getting a little concerned about this year's late arrival of "normal" snowfall, too.

Last week's first snow for the Yakima Valley served as a graphic reminder again of just how dependent we are on the vagaries of nature.

Officials who monitor water supplies now think it will take a dramatic change in weather patterns to avoid another water shortage next summer, the second in three years.

And it's the multiple dry years that create real problems because if they're back to back, then carryover water supplies are severely affected. In other words, if we use all the water in one year and there's none left to start the second, then those reservoirs have to virtually fill completely from scratch to meet demands. A second dry winter doesn't get that done.

Word is, nature may begin cooperating by the middle of this month. The national Climate Prediction Center is suggesting a warm front may push out the persistent dome of high pressure that has diverted storms to the north and south for the last several weeks. The change could bring more normal precipitation, according to a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

Irrigators hope the forecasters are correct.

"We keep being told that by mid-December we are going to get precipitation. We don't know if it will be rain or snow," said Tom Monroe, operations manager for the Roza Irrigation District. "We will have to be well over 100 percent for the next few months to get back to even."

The 72,000-acre Roza, which stretches from east Selah to near Whitstran in Benton County, is among the most exposed to a serious water shortage. The district has junior water rights that are reduced in times of shortages so that older, senior rights can be satisfied.

The Roza along with the 59,000-acre Kittitas Reclamation District in Kittitas County received just 37 percent of a full water supply in 2001.

Roza would be one of the prime beneficiaries of a proposed new Black Rock reservoir west of Yakima. That facility would take water from the Columbia River, leaving more in the Yakima River for the multiple demands on that stream.

But chances are even Black Rock, needed as it is, may not be the total, long-range solution. Other possibilities include a proposed Pine Hollow reservoir in the Ahtanum area. Reregulating reservoirs off the main stem of the Yakima River could trap and hold some of that wasted spring runoff in the basin. Conservation also helps, but conservation doesn't produce or store new water; it only stretches existing supplies.

With adequate water supplies once again up in the air literally this year, it's a good time to keep focused and moving ahead at the local, state and levels to address needed water storage facilities.

In the meantime, let it snow.

In the mountains.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Robert Bickler, Sarah Jenkins and Bill Lee.

 

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