An early assessment indicates farmers across the board will receive a full water supply this irrigation season in the Yakima Basin, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Snowpack in the mountains is near 100% of normal and basin reservoirs are at 107% of normal for this time of year, Reclamation announced in a news release.
Scott Pattee, water supply specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says the precipitation through late December though now has calmed the nerves of irrigators across the state.
“Everyone in the state that has anything at all to do with snow is sleeping a lot better at night,” he said.
March is the first water report of the year, with a more meaningful one in April. Much can change by then, warns Chris Lynch, river operations engineer with Reclamation.
“The spring still holds a lot of potential for precipitation and weather variations,” he said. “So that’s where you can actually hold or make some gains, or you can drift back. We’ve seen all three of those scenarios play out.”
Even though the water picture looks better compared to last year in March, an early warmup without much spring precipitation could drastically change things.
“It’s better, but we weren’t terrible at this time last year. But things weren’t great in the spring, so it dropped off and in June it went down,” Lynch said.
Last year in March the forecast predicted supply at 90% of normal in the basin.
But a dry spring saw that dwindle to 74% of normal supply in the upper basin. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency and junior water rights holders only ended up getting around 70% of supply. Junior water rights are inferior to senior rights and junior supplies are prorated in water shortage years.
Harsh drought has hammered the basin more than once in recent history, reeling back supply for junior right holders and even forcing early irrigation shutdowns.
The Yakima River Basin feeds 464,000 acres of irrigated farmland.
Water supply experts remain optimistic about this year.
“If we stay relatively normal for the next month, we’ll be in really good shape come April 1,” Pattee said. “We are in better shape than we have been in a while.”
Editor's note: The headline on this story has been corrected.