A year later, state has plenty of water

DROUGHT OVER: 2002 may be above-average year for Washington

The Associated Press
The Tribune

YAKIMA, WA - 3/10/02 -  A year after the region was hit with its worst drought in decades, farmers and irrigators in the Yakima Valley are smiling at news that there will be no repeat of water shortages this summer.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation made the announcement Friday, saying there should be plenty of water for farmers and fish, even if the weather turns dry.

"We are really pleased," said Tom Monroe, operations manager for the 72,000-acre Roza Irrigation District near Yakima. "Even if precipitation is half of normal, the prediction of a full supply is outstanding."

Gov. Gary Locke declared a drought emergency last March 14 after minimal rainfall and snowpack left rivers at their lowest levels since 1977.

Standing in a dry lake bed southeast of Olympia, Locke predicted the dry conditions would strike a huge blow to fish runs, the state's hydropower market and Eastern Washington farmers who rely on irrigation too keep their crops from dying.

The dire predictions were on target.

The drought killed young salmon, cut short the irrigation season in Central Washington's orchard country, helped drive up the price of electricity and turned the state's forests into kindling.

The Roza Irrigation District had to spend $2 million last summer purchasing additional water and ended its season in August, a month earlier than usual.

In the 460,000-acre Yakima Irrigation Project, some farmers got only 37 percent of a full supply so that those with "senior" water rights could get their supply.

Now things are different.

Much of Washington has experienced wetter-than-normal weather since this "water year" began Oct. 1, 2001.

David Murillo, who heads the Bureau of Reclamation's Yakima Field Office in Terrace Heights, says that rain and snow since October has been at 109 percent of average.

Rain and snowfall have been above average every month except February, when cold, dry weather pushed precipitation to 62 percent of average.

Precipitation in November alone was 167 percent of normal in the Okanogan region and 174 percent of normal in the central basin.

A total of 6.5 inches of rain fell in Seattle in January, well above the 5.13 inches the area typically receives. Rainfall was exactly normal at 4.18 inches last month; so far this month, it's 1.05 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service.

About 180 inches of snow was at the top of Mount Spokane as of Saturday, more than three times above normal. That means there will be plenty of water behind Grand Coulee Dam for diversion to farm fields in the Columbia Basin.

Automated snow measuring devices in the Cascades are reporting the amount of water in the snowpack is 110 percent of average. A year ago, the snow-water content was just 61 percent of average.

Reservoir storage is at 73 percent of average, better than last year's 52 percent.


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