Despite Drought, Good Water Supply Predicted for Columbia River

By Sierra Dawn McClain, Capital Press

Drought plagues much of the West, but officials predict abundant water supplies this year for Pacific Northwest irrigators who rely on the Columbia River System.

That’s good news for thousands of U.S. farms that rely on drainage from the Columbia River watershed, spanning Oregon, Washington, Idaho, western Montana and small portions of Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

The Columbia — the Pacific Northwest’s largest river — begins in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, zigzags into Washington state, turns west into Oregon and finally empties into the Pacific Ocean. The river’s largest tributary is the Snake River, which crosses Idaho.

The recent positive forecast comes after a winter of heavy snowpack in British Columbia.

The Canadian Drought Monitor’s most recent report labels the region surrounding the river’s headwaters as “abnormally dry” this spring due to meager rainfall — 40% below average. But because of a snowy winter, officials say water supplies look healthy.

“I don’t think (irrigators) will have any problems with water supplies on the Columbia this year,” said Nick Bond, Washington state climatologist. “It’s tapping that healthy snowpack. The places that are kind of under the gun are the lower elevations where they’ve had an extended period of subpar precipitation and so forth.”

Bond said farmers that rely on the Columbia are much more fortunate than irrigators in other regions, such as farmers in the Klamath Basin straddling the Oregon-California border.

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