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Pray for snow, urge Lower Valley irrigators

"Let it snow" is the prayer of Yakima Valley irrigators and those who regulate the life's blood of the Yakima Valley's agriculture industry.

While it is a bit early to be making predictions about the coming irrigation season, there is cause for concern.

With snow levels in the mountains so poor that even the ski resorts have had to haul in the white stuff in order to open this past Saturday, those who look to the hills for summer irrigation water are starting to get worried, Still, some feel it may be a little too early to panic.

"It's scary," admits Tom Monroe, operations manager at Roza Irrigation District. "But it is a little early to panic. However, he added, it is definitely time to be concerned.

The winter storms of the past week have helped, he admits, but so far the snowfall has been far below normal.

More snow is needed in the mountains, if the Valley is to avoid another drought year.

Nevertheless, Monroe and his counterparts are hoping the next three months of winter will turn the gloomy forecast around.

"We still have three more winter months during which we could get more snow," agrees Jim Trull, manager of the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District.

"We've had past Januarys which started off with light snowpack, but by late March and early April the picture was much better," said Trull.

Trull said while there is cause for concern, it is too early to predict the 2005 water picture.

He said he'll be looking at the winter storm patterns and hoping that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's March water supply report will be more favorable.

However, the first look at the Jan. 1 water supply report is disheartening. There is less than half of the normal snowpack covering the Cascades, according to a report issued by Scott Pattee of the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).

Pattee said most of the automated SNOTEL stations are showing record to near record lows for Jan. 1 snowpacks across the state.

He said only three-quarters of the normal precipitation has been registered.

The NRCS report also included an example of years when January snow accumulations have started off slow, only to have the snowpack doubled by the end of winter. For example, 1990 started off poorly, snow wise, but finished above average, according to Pattee's report.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast agencies are predicting a continuation of the current El Nino weather pattern of below normal precipitation and above average temperatures for the next 90 days.

For the time being it appears as though the winter storms have shifted to the south, hitting California and Nevada, said Monroe.

"It's time to be concerned, but we could still get some big storms," he said.

"We really need that snowpack," Monroe added, calling the snowpack the system's sixth reservoir.

"We rely on the snowpack to come off gradually to get us through the growing season," he said.

"We just have to wait and see what happens and pray for snow," added Trull.

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