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Yakima wants to bank Naches River water in aquifer

By Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic  April 13, 2014

Yakima’s four municipal wells normally pull water from a deep aquifer, but with a few adjustments, two of the wells can be reversed to send water back into the ground.

These dual-action wells are about to become very handy. If temporary permits are approved, as expected, Yakima plans a test project in May to determine if the aquifer can be used to store water from the Naches River.

“We want to take water out of the river when it’s available and put it in (the aquifer) when our customers don’t need it,” said David Brown, the city’s water and irrigation manager. “If we store it, then we can use it during drought years.”

Yakima relies primarily on the Naches River for its domestic water. But some of that supply falls under junior water rights, which can be cut during a drought. The city also has rights to the aquifer, which accounts for about 20 percent of the city’s supply during a normal year, Brown said.

But during the 2005 drought, the city relied on that groundwater for about half its supply, he said.

Brown envisions a system where the city takes advantage of its current water rights, existing wells and distribution system, and the natural groundwater reservoir to improve its ability to meet demands during times of drought. But the technology is relatively new in Washington and the path to getting the necessary permits is complicated.

However, because this project is part of the Yakima Basin’s Integrated Plan for water management, the state funding of $150,000 is supporting it.

Taking stored water from the aquifer during a drought, rather than from the river, benefits all the basin’s water users, from farmers to fish, Brown said.

Advocates of the technology, known as Aquifer Storage and Recovery, or ASR, point out that using aquifers as reservoirs costs less and has fewer environmental consequences than building surface storage.

Dan Haller, an environmental engineer who works on ASR projects, said that while the technology is still new here, several Eastern Washington communities, including Walla Walla, Kennewick and White Salmon, are developing such projects. None, however, has received final permits.

Yakima has been researching ASR since 1998, when a consultant noted that the geology below the city would be well suited to storing water.

The aquifer beneath Yakima is basically shaped like a bowl, explained Chris Pitre, a hydrogeologist for Golder Associates who has worked with the city for years.

But the bowl leaks a little bit. Water in the aquifer slowly moves through a layer of sandstone to eventually feed into the Yakima River.

“What we have to figure out is if we store some water in the ground, how long can we retain it?” Brown said.

The pilot project planned for May will help answer that question: the city will pump water into the aquifer for five days and then use monitoring wells to track it as it moves for several months.

This will be the city’s second such test. The first was done in 2000 at a different well, Pitre said. Running a model with data from that experiment, they found that about 40 percent of the water would probably “leak” out over 10 years.

Since the city’s goal is to use this technology as drought insurance, Brown said they don’t expect to get all their water back. Instead, he said, having additional supply available when they really need it will be worth some slow loss over time.

Droughts are predicted to become more frequent in the region, Brown said, and he believes this storage, along with conservation measures, will help the city prepare for that future.

Moreover, the “lost” water eventually adds to the flow of the Yakima River, which has environmental benefits.

So the pilot project will help the city learn how much of the added water it can expect will remain in the aquifer over time. But, Pitre said state policy is not clear on how Ecology will determine how much water cities will be allowed to recover from these systems.

 

State law allows ASR projects to only withdraw the water that remains from what was put in, but it’s complicated to regulate because each aquifer loses water at a different rate.

Because of that, Ecology has decided to set the recovery limits on a case by case basis during the permitting process, said Guy Gregory, a hydrogeologist with Ecology.

Another challenge for permitting these projects is ensuring that they meet groundwater quality standards.

“The state is trying to encourage ASR as a responsible water resource management tool, but they are bumping into this (water quality) regulation we also have to deal with,” Pitre said.

Yakima plans to treat the water, just like the drinking water, before it puts it into the ground. But Haller explained that water quality regulations for groundwater can actually be stricter than drinking water standards, because they are designed to prevent pollution.

Yakima treats its water with chlorine to kill pathogens to prevent disease, but that process creates chemicals known as disinfection byproducts, Haller said. The chemicals are considered safe to drink. But since they don’t naturally occur in the groundwater, they can be treated like pollution by regulators.

“You have to go through an evaluation of whether it is reasonable to treat and remove (the byproducts) or whether it is OK to degrade groundwater slightly to do this project,” Haller said.

Once the water quality data has been analyzed, the director of the Department of Ecology can determine whether the project’s benefits outweigh the risks and allow it to move forward.

That’s what Ecology staff has recommended for the Kennewick project and that’s what Pitre believes will happen for Yakima.

 

During the experiment in 2000, Pitre said the water quality analysis showed that after six weeks the byproducts broke down into water, chloride and carbon dioxide.

The pilot project operating under a temporary permit this summer will also study the water quality, Pitre added, and help the city get a permanent permit.

Once it has that permit, the city can start storing water right away, without needing any construction.

It’s one piece of the Integrated Plan that could be up and running quickly. Eventually, Brown said, the city could work with other water users, like the county or irrigation districts, to store water for them as well.

“This has lots of long-term potential,” Brown said. “There is hundreds of millions of gallons of free space in this reservoir.”

 

TeaCup Display

Teacup chart from Bureau of Reclamation

 

 

Annual Precipitation East Cascades Annual Temperature East Cascades

Above charts and more information can be found at  http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/

 

What is climate change?

Climate is usually defined as the “average weather” in a place. It includes patterns of temperature, precipitation (rain or snow), humidity, wind and seasons. Climate patterns play a fundamental role in shaping natural ecosystems, and the human economies and cultures that depend on them. But the climate we’ve come to expect is not what it used to be, because the past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future. Our climate is rapidly changing with disruptive impacts, and that change is progressing faster than any seen in the last 2,000 years.

According to the report, Preparing for a Changing Climate, rising levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere have warmed the Earth and are causing wide-ranging impacts, including rising sea levels; melting snow and ice; more extreme heat events, fires and drought; and more extreme storms, rainfall and floods. Scientists project that these trends will continue and in some cases accelerate, posing significant risks to human health, our forests, agriculture, freshwater supplies, coastlines, and other natural resources that are vital to Washington state’s economy, environment, and our quality of life.

Because so many systems are tied to climate, a change in climate can affect many related aspects of where and how people, plants and animals live, such as food production, availability and use of water, and health risks. For example, a change in the usual timing of rains or temperatures can affect when plants bloom and set fruit, when insects hatch or when streams are their fullest. This can affect historically synchronized pollination of crops, food for migrating birds, spawning of fish, water supplies for drinking and irrigation, forest health, and more.

Some short-term climate variation is normal, but longer-term trends now indicate a changing climate.

Our state and societies around the globe need to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to avoid worsening climate impacts and reduce the risk of creating changes beyond our ability to respond and adapt. Washington state is addressing this challenge and has adopted policies to reduce energy use, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and build a clean energy economy. Some changes in climate — and impacts on our state — are unavoidable, even if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions today. But we can take more actions  to reduce progressively worsening impacts.

Weather trends
As of 2012, the 12 hottest years have all happened in the past 15, with July 2012 the hottest month ever recorded in the United States. The year 2012 broke the most U.S. heat records of any year to date, and it tied with 1998 for the most extreme weather events. While 2012 was also the ninth-warmest year on record world-wide, all 10 of the warmest years have occurred since 1998, continuing a trend of temperatures well above the mid-20th century average. The record dates back to 1880 because that is when there were enough meteorological stations around the world to provide global temperature data.

NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt says, “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

More information on climate change in the State of Washington can be found at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange/ and http://www.ecy.wa.gov/climatechange/effects.htm

Click on The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment for summary of report.

 

Lake Kachess

Lake Kachess

 

Bumping Lake

Bumping Lake

 

Snow shortage worries Yakima River water users

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 16, 2014

It’s too soon to hit a panic button declaring a drought in the Mid-Columbia, experts say.But unless prayers for snow in the Cascade Mountains are answered, Yakima River water users may find themselves short this summer.”If we were getting the snow we really need, the passes would be closed,” said Scott Pattee, U.S. Department of Agriculture water supply specialist.At the beginning of the month, Washington needed 200 percent of the average snowfall during February and March to catch up, Pattee said.It doesn’t take much this time of year to increase snowpack, but the storms that have come through so far were average, he said. It’s only because there has been no snow to speak of since the beginning of December that they seemed abnormal.The Kennewick, Columbia and Sunnyside Valley irrigation districts all use Yakima River Basin water to serve properties in Benton and Yakima counties.Without water, many of the Mid-Columbia’s crops, including potatoes, tree fruit and grapes, can’t grow. Residents of Kennewick, Finley, Richland and West Richland also use Yakima River water to water lawns and gardens alive.The reservoirs for the Yakima River Basin are storing about 116 percent of the average water for this time of year, thanks to carryover water from the two previous good water supply years.But those reservoirs only store about 1 million acre feet of water, when 2 million to 2.5 million acre feet of water is needed in the Yakima Basin each year for irrigation, instream flows and some municipal uses, said Jim Trull, Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District manager.In an average year, the water yield is about 3 million acre feet, he said. But so far, this year hasn’t shaped up as average.

The recent snow on the valley floor should help reduce some of the demand for water in the spring, Trull said.

Since October, it’s been unusually dry, said Nic Loyd, Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet meteorologist. This is the time of year when the mountain snow pack in the Cascades builds up.

Snowpack, which Washington uses as a reservoir, hasn’t improved enough yet to prevent a drought, Pattee said. Snowpack for the Lower Yakima River Basin was up to about 72 percent of the average as of earlier this week. That’s up about 7 percent from the beginning of the month.

As the snowpack melts during the spring and summer, it helps feed the Lower Yakima River Basin.

The impact of a potential drought on some Mid-Columbia water users is tempered because some irrigation districts, including Columbia and Sunnyside Valley, have senior water rates that the state and federal government can’t limit.

But for junior water right holders, the state can prorate their water rights when there is a drought, meaning that the water users will only get a percentage of the water they have the right to use when water is plentiful.

Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District, which provides irrigation water in Yakima and Benton counties, is in a better situation than some others because two-thirds of the district’s water rights are senior, Trull said. Only receiving a percentage of one-third of the district’s junior water rights could be a significant issue, but it’s not at the same level as those who only have junior water rights.

Columbia Irrigation District is the last to take water out of the Yakima River, said Joel Teeley, general manager and board secretary.

“There is usually enough water for us,” he said.

Kennewick Irrigation District does have junior water rights. The board of directors will discuss drought planning at its Tuesday meeting.

It’s not just Washington that has been hit with lower-than-average levels of rain and snow. Most of the Northwest, including Oregon and California, are in the same situation, with less-than-average precipitation between November and January, research climatologist Greg Jones said in a forecast earlier this month.

While forecasts are heading toward normal precipitation and snow through April, Jones, with Southern Oregon University in Ashland, cautioned in his forecast that likely would not be enough to catch up on the current deficits.

For most of the basins, snow doesn’t normally accumulate past April 1, Pattee said. While snow has accumulated up until May before, it’s not likely.

About 70 percent to 80 percent of the state’s surface water supply comes from mountain snowpack, Pattee said.

Lack of storage means water concerns for the Yakima Basin aren’t unusual.

A statewide drought nine years ago ended up better than expected because of a cool, wet, long spring, despite having worse snowpack than this year, Pattee said. In 2005, it didn’t stop raining until the end of June.

During several winters, the snowpack has started out poor into February, but then the state got enough precipitation in February and March to catch up, Loyd said.

The next week looks like there will be some buildup of mountain snow, Loyd said. Even a few large snowstorms in the mountains would help.

“We’re making up ground, but we are still below normal,” Loyd said.

But after that, it’s back to dry conditions for the foreseeable future, he said.

One saving grace is that the Snake River is in good shape, with 94 percent of the normal snowpack, Pattee said. Walla Walla snowpack is near average, about 90 percent.

The upper Columbia also got good snow early on, and looks to be in good shape for this year, Pattee said. That’s critical for power generation since some of the other tributaries may be lacking and California likely will be desperate for power due to its lack of water.

That means the South Columbia Basin Irrigation District, which is part of the Columbia Basin Project, is expecting normal, adequate water supplies and delivery, said Dave Solem, the district’s secretary/manager. Most of the snowpack to feed the Columbia River is in Canada.

Pattee said officials will have a better idea of the water supply in the beginning of March, when the federal  Bureau of Reclamation will release its first water supply forecast for the year.

Trull said the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District is waiting for that forecast before making any decisions about how to handle water supplies this year.

But it may be difficult to know how junior water right holders will be affected until the first of April, Pattee said.

Caution is the best advice officials say they can give for now.  This year may not be best one for activities that require plentiful water, such as replacing a perennial crop or planting a lawn.

State and federal agencies met early February to discuss a possible drought. As of the beginning of the month, more than 90 percent of the state was suffering from a moderate drought and statewide snowpack was at 55 percent of average.

The next meeting of the Water Supply Availability Committee, which will decide on whether to recommend Gov. Jay Inslee declare a drought in any region in the state, is scheduled for March 7.

Drought concerns rise as state remains dry

SEATTLE — Officials monitoring lower than usual snowpack levels in Washington say it’s not time to panic, but they’re nevertheless preparing in case of a possible drought.

The Department of Ecology plans to ask the Legislature for drought-relief money in case dry weather conditions persist into spring. And a committee of state and federal officials that monitors the state’s water supply is meeting next week to start preparing for the worst. The last time they met was 2010, when there were similar concerns about a possible drought.

“Nobody is blowing a whistle yet or raising a red flag. It’s more of a yellow flag,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon. His office, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tracks snowpack levels using a network of weather stations throughout the state.

The state relies on mountain snowpack to supply water for drinking, irrigation, fish migration, power generation and other needs through the year.

Statewide, snowpack levels are about 50 percent less than average for this time of year, though basins vary, Pattee said. The Olympic Peninsula basin is at 34 percent of normal, while the Lower Columbia Basin is at 45 percent of normal, Pattee said.

Precipitation on the slopes of the Cascade Mountains east of Yakima stands at about 59 percent of average, according to the latest available estimate from the USDA’s Washington Snow Survey Office.

About 93 percent of the state is in moderate drought conditions, according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The winter has been drier than usual, with ski resorts opening later than usual. But experts say there’s still time to catch up.

“We could have a wet, snowy February and March and people will stop talking about this. It’s rare that it doesn’t turn around,” said Brent Bower, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle. “That being said, it is very dry and the snowpack is low.”

The state declared drought emergencies in 2005 and 2001.

“It’s time to get prepared for dealing with a possible drought in the state,” said Dan Partridge, a Department of Ecology spokesman. “It’s not time to panic or anything like that.”

Partridge said it’s early in the season and “we have quite some time to catch up on snowpack. That, of course, would be our best hope.”

The state was viewing similar dry conditions in 2010, and lawmakers approved about $4 million for drought relief, but that money was never needed, he said. Snow and rain in the spring boosted the snowpack and reduced the threat of a drought.

Ecology isn’t sure yet how much it plans to ask for, but it needs legislative action before the short 60 day-session adjourns in early March, Partridge said. The money would be used to make loans and grants on such things as leasing water rights or drilling emergency wells or deepening existing ones for cities, farmers or fish hatcheries.

The state’s water supply committee is meeting Thursday, and will meet regularly. That group is convened when there appears to be persistent dry conditions in the state that could eventually require a declaring a drought.

Ecology would declare a drought at the direction of Gov. Jay Inslee. Under state law, a drought is declared if an area receives or is projected to receive less than 75 percent of normal water supply and water users in those areas are likely to incur undue hardship because of the shortage.

 

Click for Summary of Climate Change on Major Habitat in Washington

Low Snowpack Gives Yakima Valley Farmers Concern

KNDO-TV         

1/27/2014
YAKIMA, WA – As many of you have noticed, this winter has been especially mild and skiers aren’t the only ones who are upset.

Water from snowpack up in the Cascades trickles all the way down to farms in the lower valley. With an unusually mild winter so far, farmers are beginning to prepare for what could be a water shortage.

As California experiences it’s driest season on record, farmers in the Yakima Valley worry about their own water supply.

“The Yakima Basin could be facing a little bit of a challenge,” farmer Jim Willard said.

Despite a few recent snow storms, snowpack levels are hovering right around 60 percent of normal. Jim Willard grows wine grapes, apples and cherries in Prosser. Melting snow from the Cascades provides a large amount of the water farmers in the valley, like Jim, use for their crops.

“Two thirds of that water is in the annual snowpack, so that makes a big difference,” Willard said.

If snowpack levels don’t improve it can cause farmers to dip into emergency wells or even leave some land empty.

“Any crop out here needs an adequate water supply,” Willard said. ”It just depends on how much we have available.”

Snowpack has left other merchants worried as well. Mark Barrett, owner of Barrett Orchards in Yakima, is a fourth generation farmer. He hasn’t a snowpack this low in years.

“Maybe 1 or 2 years in the last 20 that we’ve been this low at this point that I can remember,” Mark Barrett said.

Things can still turn around though.

“It’s not a good pattern but hopefully the weather pattern will change and we’ll get more snow,” Willard said.

Farmers in the valley missed out on a white Christmas, so now they’re desperately hoping for a white spring.

Farmers say no need to sound the alarm quite yet, with a strong next couple of months, snowpack levels may still return to normal.

Inland Northwest snow pack low as drought looms

By              The Spokesman-Review January 4, 2014

A drought spreading across the Western United States is creeping closer to the Inland Northwest.

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that abnormally dry conditions have moved into the Columbia Basin as well as the Cascades and Western Washington.

Far Eastern Washington and North Idaho are still outside the drought area.

In the mountains of the Inland Northwest, snowpack on Friday was about 76 percent of normal for this time of year.

That compares with 33 to 44 percent of normal in the central Cascades of Washington and only 22 percent of normal near Mount Hood in northern Oregon.

Much of the snow that has fallen in the mountains came from a series of storms in November.

“Since then, we really haven’t had much,” said Jeffrey Cote, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

A storm Thursday night brought 3 to 4 inches of snow to the mountains of North Idaho and more than 6 inches to the North Cascades.

But only 0.03 inches of rain fell at Spokane International Airport, where precipitation amounts are less than half of normal for the season.

It was the latest in a stubborn pattern where storms are being shunted to the north and east by a strong ridge of higher air pressure along the Pacific coast. Storms that break over the ridge are weakened and provide only glancing blows, Cote said.

“Looking at long-range patterns, it’s not very promising,” he said.

Dry and cold weather is expected over the weekend. Weak storms are possible on Tuesday into next weekend, when a stronger storm may develop.

“Beyond that, the ridge tries to rebuild itself,” Cote said, and that will bring more dry weather.

Sunshine should accompany the higher air pressure today and Sunday, with highs in the lower 30s today and upper 20s on Sunday. Lows should be in the teens.

An analysis this week by meteorologists in Spokane showed only a 15 to 20 percent chance of catching up to normal precipitation and snowpack by the time spring arrives. That is based on a study of previous dry years, Cote said.

Most of California and Nevada are in severe to extreme drought. The Rockies are faring better, with parts of western Montana, Wyoming and Colorado reporting above-normal snowpacks so far.

 

Below are recent articles & Videos from the Yakima Herald Republic

Below normal snowpack brings concern about water supply

Study to look at bottom line for Yakima Basin water plan (Story)

 

 

Yakima River Basin Plan Approved by Legislature

 

 

Cle Elum Pool Raise

The Cle Elum Pool Raise Project (Pool Raise) was authorized for implementation, including construction, under the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP) Title XII, October 31, 1994.  It has also been identified as a component of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (Integrated Plan).  Section 1206 of Title XII includes authorization to modify the radial gates at Cle Elum Dam to provide an additional 14,600 acre-feet of storage capacity in Lake Cle Elum; provide for shoreline protection of Lake Cle Elum; and provide environmental mitigation for impacts from the Project, as necessary.

Cle Elum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pool Raise consists of raising the maximum water level of Cle Elum Lake by 3 feet from a current maximum elevation of 2,240 feet to 2,243 feet.  The Pool Raise would increase the volume of available storage in Cle Elum Lake by approximately 14,600 acre-feet, which would be used to improve instream flows for fish.

http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/eis/cleelumraise/index.html

Keechelus-to-Kachess Conveyance Project

The Bureau of Reclamation and Washington State Department of Ecology are conducting a feasibility study for the Keechelus-to-Kachess Conveyance (KKC) Project to examine the feasibility and acceptability of conveying water from the Keechelus Reservoir to Kachess Reservoir in order to reduce flows in the upper Yakima River for fish rearing and habitat, and to augment flows into Kachess Reservoir to improve the capability for refill in dry years.Kachess Reservoir

The KKC Project is one of several potential structural and operation changes projects being analyzed to improve water resources management in the Yakima River basin.  The Study is being performed under the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP) Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (Integrated Plan).  The purpose of the Integrated Plan is to provide additional water supply for agriculture and municipal and domestic uses as well as improving ecological conditions for fish.  The Integrated Plan was developed under authority provided to Reclamation by under the 1979 YRBWEP Feasibility Study Authorization (Public Law 96-162, December 28, 1979); existing YRBWEP Act (P.L. 103-434, October 31, 1994, as amended by P.L. 105-62, October 13, 1997; and P.L. 106-372, October 27, 2000).  The Integrated Plan, in effect, constitutes Phase 3 of YRBWEP.

The KKC Feasibility Study will be performed concurrently with the Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant (KDRPP) (formerly identified as Kachess Reservoir Inactive Storage) Feasibility Study.  The KDRPP Feasibility Study involves analyses of accessing reservoir water currently stored below the elevation of the existing reservoir outlet works.  Each separate study will produce its own feasibility reports including a planning report, feasibility design report, and economics technical report.  However, due to the potential connectivity of the two projects, a single environmental impact statement (EIS) will be prepared, which will include site-specific environmental analyses for both proposed projects.

http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/eis/kkc/index.html

Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant
(Kachess Reservoir Inactive Storage Project)

The Bureau of Reclamation and Washington State Department of Ecology are conducting a feasibility study for the Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant (KDRPP) (formerly identified as Kachess Reservoir Inactive Storage Project) to examine the feasibility and acceptability of withdrawing an additional 200,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Kachess and transferring that flow into the Yakima River for beneficial downstream use in a drought year.  Kachess Reservoir

The KDRPP is one of several potential surface water supply projects being studied to improve water resources management in the Yakima basin being developed under the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project (YRBWEP) Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan (Integrated Plan).  The purpose of the Integrated Plan is to provide additional water supply for agriculture and municipal and domestic uses as well as improving ecological conditions for fish.  The Integrated Plan was developed under authority provided to Reclamation by under the 1979 YRBWEP Feasibility Study Authorization (Public Law 96-162, December 28, 1979); existing YRBWEP Act (P.L. 103-434, October 31, 1994, as amended by P.L. 105-62, October 13, 1997; and P.L. 106-372, October 27, 2000).  The Integrated Plan, in effect, constitutes Phase 3 of YRBWEP.

The KDRPP Feasibility Study will be performed concurrently with the Keechelus-to-Kachess Conveyance (KKC) Project Feasibility Study.  Each separate study will produce its own feasibility reports including a planning report, feasibility design report, and economics technical report.  However, due to the potential connectivity of the two projects, a single environmental impact statement (EIS) will be prepared, which will include environmental analyses for both proposed projects.

http://www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/eis/kdrpp/index.html

 

 

Keechelus Lake Image

Lake Keechelus

Kachess Lake Image

Lake Kachess

Potential Keechelus to Kachess Pipeline

K to K Pipeline

K to K Pipeline 2

 

 

A New Look at Snowpack Trends in the Cascade Mountains

Mark T. Stoelinga, Mark D. Albright, and Clifford F. MassDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
Abstract

This study examines the changes in Cascade Mountain spring snowpack since 1930. Three new time series facilitate this analysis: a water-balance estimate of Cascade snowpack from 1930 to 2007 that extends the observational record 20 years earlier than standard snowpack measurements; a radiosonde-based time series of lower-tropospheric temperature during onshore flow, to which Cascade snowpack is well correlated; and a new index of the North Pacific sea level pressure pattern that encapsulates modes of variability to which Cascade spring snowpack is particularly sensitive.

Cascade spring snowpack declined 23% during 1930–2007. This loss is nearly statistically significant at the 5% level. The snowpack increased 19% during the recent period of most rapid global warming (1976–2007), though this change is not statistically significant because of large annual variability. From 1950 to 1997, a large and statistically significant decline of 48% occurred. However, 80% of this decline is connected to changes in the circulation patterns over the North Pacific Ocean that vary naturally on annual to interdecadal time scales. The residual time series of Cascade snowpack after Pacific variability is removed displays a relatively steady loss rate of 2.0% decade−1, yielding a loss of 16% from 1930 to 2007. This loss is very nearly statistically significant and includes the possible impacts of anthropogenic global warming.

The dates of maximum snowpack and 90% melt out have shifted 5 days earlier since 1930. Both shifts are statistically insignificant. A new estimate of the sensitivity of Cascade spring snowpack to temperature of −11% per °C, when combined with climate model projections of 850-hPa temperatures offshore of the Pacific Northwest, yields a projected 9% loss of Cascade spring snowpack due to anthropogenic global warming between 1985 and 2025.

Click for full study http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2009JCLI2911.1

 

Science News

Warming Climate Is Affecting Cascades Snowpack In Pacific Northwest

May 15, 2009 — There has been sharp disagreement in recent years about how much, or even whether, winter snowpack has declined in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon during the last half-century.

But new research leaves little doubt that a warmer climate has a significant effect on the snowpack, as measured by water content on April 1, even if other factors keep year-to-year measurements close to normal for a period of years.

Water content can vary greatly depending on temperature and other conditions at the time of snowfall. Typically an inch of snow at temperatures near freezing will contain significantly more water than an inch of snow a colder temperatures.

“All things being equal, if you make it 1 degree Celsius warmer, then 20 percent of the snowpack goes away for the central Puget Sound basin, the area we looked at,” said Joseph Casola, a University of Washington doctoral student in atmospheric sciences.

That means that even in years with normal or above-normal snowfall, the snowfall probably would have been even greater except for climate warming. The finding has implications for various water-dependent resources, including drinking water supplies, fisheries, irrigation and hydropower, and it could be applicable to other areas of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest.

Annual snowfall variability makes it difficult to plot a meaningful trend, Casola said. Starting in a year with high snow accumulation will imply a significant decrease over time, while starting in a year with average or low snow totals will imply little change or even an increase. So, for example, measuring from 1944 to 2005 shows just a slight decline in snowpack but changing the starting year to 1950 more than triples the decline.

However, the measurements also show a slight increase in the last 30 years, a period of significant climate warming. That is probably because trend measurements include declines from climate warming as well as increases and decreases from other factors. For example, several of the lowest-snow winters in the Puget Sound area were during El Niño years, while many of the highest-snow winters were during La Niña years. Those two climate phenomena in the South Pacific can have significant impact on Northwest weather. Likewise, the amount of snow can be affected by a long-term climate cycle in the North Pacific called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which changes between positive and negative phases on the order of every 20 years.

“Global warming can be reducing your snowpack over time, but other factors can mask the impact of the warming,” Casola said. “Conversely, in a period of dry years global warming would tend to exacerbate the effects.”

The new research used four different methods to examine decades-long records of water contained in Cascades snowpack in the central Puget Sound basin on April 1 of each year. Scientists used simple geometry to estimate temperature sensitivity of snowpack, made detailed analysis of seasonal snowpack and temperature data, used a hydrological model to examine the data, and analyzed daily temperature and precipitation measurements to estimate water content of snowpack on April 1.

“If you assume precipitation is the same every year and look at the effects of temperature alone, all the ways we examined the data converge at about a 20 percent decline in snowpack for each degree Celsius of temperature increase,” said Casola.

He is lead author of a paper detailing the work, part of his doctoral thesis, which is being published online May 14 in Journal of Climate, published by the American Meteorological Society. Co-authors, all from the UW, are Lan Cuo, Ben Livneh, Dennis Lettenmaier, Mark Stoelinga, Philip Mote and John M. Wallace.

While there still is uncertainty in the trend data, people can expect to see lower spring snowpack more frequently in the future, with low-snow winters bringing low-flow summers, Casola said. Winter precipitation in the Cascades is likely to be similar to what is recorded now, but more of it will be rain.

Casola notes that businesses, resource manager, utilities and irrigators increasingly accept the notion of climate change, and many try to incorporate the information into long-term plans.

“Now they want to know, ‘What does this mean for my operation?’” he said. “People are becoming more savvy to the issue of climate change. They want to be aware of changes that might be coming and to identify areas in their systems that perhaps need to be modified.”

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the UW.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington.

 

The following is an excerpt from the “Water Woes” article in the Northern Kittitas County Tribune, Cle Elum, Washington by Bruce Coe (for full article Click Here): A public meeting was held in Ellensburg concerning the development of new wells outside the Upper Kittitas County Groundwater Rule Area. The proposal retains the concept of an exempt well which would allow 350 gallons a day, metered with higher usage compensated with a mitigation plan. For a more comprehensive look at the proposed rules Click Here

Click Here for a little history of irrigation in the Yakima Valley

Click Here for Bureau of Reclamation site on background and history on the Yakima Project

Click Here for Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Study by the Department of Ecology

 

The location of the proposed enhancement identified in the Integrated Plan of the Yakima River Basin can be viewed by clicking here for Map  and may be enlarged for clarity. It includes maps of the Yakima River Watershed WIRA’s 37, 38, & 39. Important areas identified in the Integrated Plan are

- the location of the property to be purchased by Washington State is the area around the north, middle, & west forks of the Teaneway River.

- the drainage area for Lake Kachess and Lake Kachelus available to provide the additional water for the lake Kachelus additional storage.

- the location of the proposed Bumping Lake enlargement and it’s proximity to the William O. Douglas Wilderness Area. The proposed dam site is near where the Bumping River Road crosses Bumping River.

- the boundaries of the Yakama Nation, the United States Department of Energy Site (Hanford), the Yakima Training Center, and other public lands such as national forests are identified.

- the map of the Yakima Basin was developed by the Department of Ecology GIS Technical Water Resources Program in March, 2004.

 

Click for Yakima Watershed Map

 

Click to view New Storage is the only Solution for the Yakima River Basin Comparison

 

Grand Coulee Dam early July 2013 spilling water.

Grand Coulee Silling Water

 

Bumping Lake enlargement would submerge great amounts of old growth forest and recreational areas by the larger reservoir.

Bumping Lake 01

Bumping Lake 02

 

 

Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan Images

Bumping

Bumping Lake

Cle Elum

Lake Cle Elum

Kachess

Lake Kachess

Keechelus

 Lake Keechelus 

Rimrock Tieton Dam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rimrock Lake

 

Click on image to enlarge. From Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan

Climate Change Forecast

 

 

The Future

With climate change estimating a reduction in snow pack the ability to provide the additional water needed annually in the Yakima Basin for fish, agriculture, and residential, municipal and industrial use needs to be addressed.

Bumping Lake Reservoir                                                    Bumping Lake Reservoir

Lake Cle Elum Reservoir                                                   Lake Kachees Reservoir

Lake Keechelus Reservoir                                                Lake Keechelus Reservoir

Rimrock Reservoir

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