April 8, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - It's bad weather for drivers, but to area irrigators

May 27, 2010
April 8, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - It's bad weather for drivers, but to area irrigators

It’s bad weather for drivers, but to area irrigators, it’s ‘white gold’

With the snowpack at 76%, officials aren’t as worried about water shortages next summer

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin

Published: April 08. 2010 4:00AM PST

With forecasts calling for even more snow in the Central Cascades through early next week, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced Wednesday it would extend the studded tire deadline again, now until April 17, to help drivers deal with potentially difficult conditions.

But the extra snow and cold weather is welcome to irrigators and conservationists.

“I always like to call the snowpack ‘white gold,’” said Steve Johnson, director of the Central Oregon Irrigation District. “What that represents is the flow in the rivers in the summer.”

The snowpack jumped from its low of 57 percent of average on March 25 to 76 percent as of Wednesday morning — a welcome improvement, said Kyle Gorman, region manager with the Oregon Water Resources Department. “We’re making pretty good progress. It just builds our water supply up to a much better picture to what it was two weeks ago.”

“But,” Gorman continued, “it’s still 25 percent below average, which isn’t as good as we would like it to be.”

The snowpack is usually most deep around the first of April in the Deschutes Basin, Gorman said, which means that by this point in an average year, the snow in the mountains has started to melt away. But this winter, the snowpack has had a late push, and it is still growing.

And the recent storms, which since Friday have dropped more than three feet of snow at Mount Bachelor, have helped in the lower elevations as well, he said.

“It was a welcome respite from the dryness we had,” Gorman said, noting that because fields got some rain and weather has been cool, irrigation districts have been able to postpone the start of irrigation season.

“It’s a few days different, but at this point we’ll take anything we could get,” he said.

And the less water irrigators have to use this year, Johnson said, the more water can remain in the reservoirs for next summer.

If irrigators need to draw on the reservoirs a lot this year, the big concern would be that a dry winter next year would lead to empty reservoirs in summer 2011. And then the irrigation districts that rely on stored reservoir water would see their supply drop.

“That would be the concern — another winter like this one,” Johnson said.

Typically, after an El Niño year, which brings below-average snowfall, the following year will bring above-average snowpacks, he said — but that’s not a guarantee.

With the recent bump in the snowpack, the water flows in the Deschutes River should be OK this year, said Tod Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy.

“All looks, for now, pretty good for both fish and farmers on the Deschutes,” Heisler said.

But because other waterways like Tumalo Creek, McKay Creek and Whychus Creek don’t have reservoirs to save up water for the summer months and act as a buffer during dry years, the below-average snowpack could lead to less runoff in those creeks this summer.

“Whychus, I’d say, would be the creek to watch out for,” he said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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