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Environment | Water

More Northwest Mountains Are Snow-Free Already As Drought Deepens

Water managers had hoped late snows or heavy spring rains would help fill reservoirs and streams after a largely snow-free winter in the Northwest.

But that’s not how things turned out. New data shows precipitation levels in the Northwest were 40 percent below normal last month, with snowpack pretty much  disappeared.

Of the 98 sites in Washington monitored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, 66 are now snow-free.

The early melt filled streams that  are now starting to drop once again. Record-low flow levels have been recorded in Western Washington rivers including the Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie.

“It’s shaping up to be a problem right now,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the National Resources Conservation Service. “The in-stream flow is what I’m going to be concerned about, especially later in the summer, if we have this warm dry summer they’re talking about us having, then what are those in-stream flows going to be like, especially for fish?”

Things look even worse in Oregon where the drought in the southern and eastern parts of the state is deepening. The southern Willamette Valley’s Lane County could soon be added to the list of seven southern and eastern counties in drought emergency status. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council,  76 percent of Oregon’s long-term snow monitoring sites were at the lowest snowpack levels on record in April. In a typical year at that time, most sites would be near their peak snowpack.

Pattee says he’s worried that there won’t be enough water to go around later on in the season, and right now, conservation is the top priority.

“Let’s not irrigate lawns this year. Let’s not wash cars every week,” he said. “I might sound like a broken record saying that but it’s the obvious things that still need to be stated I think because some people don’t realize the obvious.”

In Washington’s Yakima Basin, spring snowmelt was so limited that water managers started drawing off their reservoirs eight weeks early to meet early-season farming needs and there’s no more snow to fill them up later on.

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