Snowpack at 85 percent of average

<p>The Wallowa Valley received a skiff of new snow on the first weekend of spring, adding to the Wallowa Mountain snowpack. This view of the mountains is looking south on Highway 3 a few miles north of Enterprise.</p>

It was another cold, snowy start to spring last week – just what Wallowa County and the region needs to add to a snowpack that is lagging behind average.

Though the county’s Mt. Howard SNOTEL measurement site was at 101 percent of the median as of Monday, March 25, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Services, the Grande Ronde, Powder, Burnt, Imnaha river basin – of which the county is a part – was only 85 percent.

On this date a year ago – after receiving a record 11 inches of precipitation in March 2012 – Mt. Howard recorded 131 percent of average snow water equivalent, while the Aneroid SNOTEL side, which is at 84 percent of average this week, was 89 percent. The basin as a whole was 104 percent of average.

“It’s hard to say. … We don’t have a crystal ball,” said Nate James, NRCS district conservationist, about the outlook for the agricultural community this summer. He referred to a March 1 NRCS Basin Report that forecasts stream flows in April through September this year to range from 79 to 100 percent of average.

“Water users in the basin can expect below normal to near normal stream flows for the summer of 2013,” said the report.

As of this week, year-to-date precipitation for the whole basin is 99 percent of average, with the water year starting Oct. 1.

Wallowa County, like the rest of Oregon, depends on water stored in its mountain snowpack for summer irrigation, rangeland condition, stream flows and fish habitat.

For the past three years, the area has depended on late winter and early spring mountain snow to make up for a relatively dry January and February to end up with a snowpack close to the historical median.

Though April 1 is usually considered the peak for the snow year, the Wallowa Mountains often get snow into May and June.

Most Oregon basins are recorded from 80 to 100 percent of normal this year, with a few unsurprising exceptions in the south part of the state.

The basins with the lowest snow packs are Malheur, 55 percent; Owyhee, 61 percent; Klamath, 66 percent; and Lake County, Goose Lake, 67 percent. The highest are Willamette and Hood, Sandy, Lower Deschutes, 106 percent. Almost all basins’ snowpacks are less than last year.

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