irrigation sprinklers water grazing farming ranching cow rights basin snowpack streams rivers STANDING

YAKIMA, Wash. — This year’s water supply looks healthy for growers throughout the Yakima Basin thanks to heavy February snow, the Bureau of Reclamation announced Thursday.

Senior water rights holders are expected to get a full supply this year while junior water rights holders are expected to have a 90 percent supply.

“This should meet their typical demands just fine,” said Chris Lynch, civil engineer with Reclamation.

Reclamation made the announcement as part of its March water supply forecast.

“We in the water business are grateful for the February snowfall in the Yakima basin after the very poor January snowfall. The mountain snowpack that feeds our reservoirs is only 80 to 90 percent of average range. However, this should provide the Yakima Project an adequate water supply this coming irrigation season,” Yakima Project River Operations Supervisor Chuck Garner said in a news release Thursday.

The Yakima Basin is composed of 464,000 acres of irrigated farmland along both sides of the Yakima River.

Irrigators were concerned by the dry January, but are happy about what February brought, said Scott Pattee with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Growers will hardly notice any decrease of water with a 90 percent supply spread across all junior rights holders in the basin.

“That’s no big deal, they can handle that,” he said. “We’re not bad at this point.”

Most of the snow has fallen in the mid basin, leaving the upper basin a bit behind on snowpack, Pattee said.

The mid basin typically provides water in the spring while the upper basin provides summer and fall supplies.

Being behind on snowpack in the upper reaches may impact irrigation late in the season, Pattee said.

“Where they’re going to see it is at the tail end of the season,” he said. “A lot of them like to do that fall watering. They might be curtailed on that a bit.”

As long as temperatures don’t warm up too soon, a significant amount of mountain snowpack should remain for the latter part of the season, Lynch said.

“We still have a lot of variability ahead of us that can have an impact on the water supply,” he said. “But we’re not really in a bad situation.”

The water supply forecast is based on streamflows, precipitation, snowpack and reservoir storage as of March 1. Future precipitation also could improve water supply.

“We still have several key months ahead of us that can have a big influence on the ultimate water supply this summer,” Garner said in the release.

Water forecasts will be made monthly through July and are available online. Specific water delivery levels will be determined later in the year after reservoir storage is released to meet demands.