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Snowpack worrisome to irrigators

With the initial water supply outlook for the Yakima Valley looking bleak, Don Schramm on Tuesday updated members of the Board of Control for the Sunnyside Division of the Yakima Irrigation Project on the water outlook for the coming season.

As of Tuesday morning, the storage levels are 115 percent of average, precipitation is 65 percent of average and the snowpack is 25 percent of average, according to Schramm. He explained that storage levels, precipitation and snowpack are the three indicators looked at when looking at determining how much water will be available.

He said the storage levels at 115 percent of normal are one bright spot in the water woes. He said when filled, the reservoirs only satisfy about 40 percent of the irrigation need during the summer months. Currently, the reservoirs have about 600,000 acre feet of water in them. They are at about 57 percent of capacity.

"The snowpack is not very healthy right now," said Schramm. "Most of the snow up there is high and there's not a lot of area covered."

Most of the water in the reservoirs is coming from the snow that is melting on the passes. He said half of the melt is going into the reservoir and the other half is going through Parker via the river.

Schramm compared the water indicators to that of 2001, when water became a major issue for farmers in the Lower Valley.

In 2001, storage was 65 percent of average, precipitation was 50 percent of average and the snowpack was 55 percent of average.

He said that in the spring of 2001 the snowpack actually improved, which is what he is hoping will happen this year.

The official water forecast won't be available until March, but Schramm said they will be keeping an eye on the water indicators.

"Right now it appears it's going to be a tough summer," he said.

Tuesday, the board of control members approved the end of the year financial statements for 2004.

The biggest increases to the 2004 budget were for the Sunnyside Canal Improvement Project (SCIP), which is in the first year of an eight-year process. The canal project is a water conservation project.

According to treasurer Patricia Bailey, grants for the project were added into the budget. Bureau of Reclamation and state grant funds equaling nearly $1.3 million were added into the budget for the first reservoir, which is currently under construction near Prosser. With the grant funding, the budget jumped from $1,300,587 in 2003 to $2,430,197 in 2004.

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