Snow that feeds Washington's reservoirs sets record low for April, raising wildfire concerns

Snow that replenishes Washington's reservoirs set a record low for April, setting the stage for reduced water supplies and perhaps more devastating wildfires this year.

The April 1 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service found the statewide winter snowpack at only 22 percent of normal. The previous record — 33 percent of normal — was set in 2005.

The Cedar River basin was snow-free, followed closely by the Olympics at only 3 percent of the 30-year median for April 1. That's the lowest ever recorded in both basins.

"Conditions have practically spun out of control to the point where 74 percent of our long-term snow-monitoring sites have set new record low snow amounts," said Scott Pattee, NRCS water supply specialist.

The winter snowpack is important because the snow typically melts slowly through the spring and summer, filling reservoirs and providing water through the dry months.

"As expected, streamflow forecasts have also tanked in many areas and are also setting new record low flows," Pattee said.

Other findings in the report:

— The Methow River Basin reported the highest snowpack at 79 percent of normal for April 1. Western Washington basins were 44 percent of normal.

— Snowpack along the east slopes of the Cascade Range was 24 percent of normal.

— Snowpack in the Spokane River Basin was at 31 percent, and the Walla Walla River Basin had 27 percent of the long-term median.

— The Central and South Puget river basins had 4 percent and 27 percent respectively, and the Lower Columbia basins had 16 percent of normal.

Precipitation in March fell in the form of rain only, with near to slightly below average rainfall over most of the state.

The Conconully Lake area was the driest at 48 percent of normal precipitation for March, the report said.

More rainfall than snow has helped push many reservoirs to above-normal levels for this time of year. In most cases, managers are electing to hold this excess water due to the uncertainty of the snowpack, Pattee said.