Low snowpack will cut into irrigation
April 9, 2013
Record dry weather during the first three months of 2013 won’t mean much water for the summer irrigation season, according to the annual streamflow forecast issued by the National Weather Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
But it will also reduce the chances of flooding in Western Nevada and eastern California this spring.
“Streamflow is expected to be well below average this spring and summer regionwide,” the report said Friday.
The majority of precipitation falls in the Sierra from mid-October to mid-April. The water year, which begins on Oct. 1, got off to a good start this year, with some places having twice average precipitation for the year.
But starting with the new year, storms stopped coming, but a frigid January helped stem the melt-off for a month. Neither February nor March was a good water producer and both had several warm days that contributed to an early reduction of the snowpack.
By the start of April, the snowpack was down to about half of average.
“Meeting all water needs his summer is going to be difficult, especially in areas which rely on an irrigated agriculture economy,” forecasters said. “Many areas will face shortages and some difficult decisions will need to be made regarding irrigating agricultural areas. Water users will need to work closely with their suppliers to determine the extent of any restrictions that may apply this year. Areas with poor reservoir storage or agricultural areas that get their water directly from a river or creek can expect these flows to decline earlier than normal this year.”
Flooding from snowmelt is unlikely, unless warm, heavy spring rains occur during April or May.
Snowpack for the Carson River though well below average, is quite a bit better off this year than last. The snowpack is at 63 percent of average compared to 42 percent of average last year. The Walker River basin is at 72 percent of average, which is almost double the 37 percent of average that it was in April 2012.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared Douglas and other Western Nevada counties drought disaster areas.
Forecasters say that has temperatures warm up and fuels continue to dry, the danger of wildfire will increase, especially in timbered areas that have experienced two drought winters.
The long-range forecast for Western Nevada through June is for average temperatures and below average precipitation.
Carson Valley ranchers count on the Carson River for irrigation water. When dry years decrease irrigation water, they rely on irrigation wells to make up the difference.