Snow shortage worries Yakima River water users
By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 16, 2014
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.
Low Snowpack Gives Yakima Valley Farmers Concern
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Potential Keechelus to Kachess Pipeline
A New Look at Snowpack Trends in the Cascade Mountains
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
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 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
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
Grand Coulee Dam early July 2013 spilling water.
Bumping Lake enlargement would submerge great amounts of old growth forest and recreational areas by the larger reservoir.
Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan Images
Lake Cle Elum
Click on image to enlarge. From Yakima River Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan
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