Winter Snowfall Reigns in Summer
by Editorial Board
Seattle Times, February 14, 2008
Crazy winter weather inspired a recent "man bites dog" report of ski areas forced to close because of too much snow.
The positive glimmer through a season of tragic avalanches and traffic-stalling pass closures is an expectation of abundant water supplies next summer. In a time of climate change, such forecasts come with an asterisk. Keeping all that water potential in the mountains is the concern. Global warming might not deny the Pacific Northwest its winter snowfalls, but the prospect of earlier, warmer springs means melting and runoff that is ill-timed for fish, farmers and thirsty cities.
Extraordinary amounts of snow also stir worries about winter and spring floods, if unseasonable weather arrives. For now, the snowy Cascades in January portend a summer without conflicts between salmon needs and hydropower, and without requests to sacrifice green lawns for municipal water supplies.
Water resources and water storage are standing topics in the Legislature these days. House Bill 3309 reflects a winning combination of cooperation and creativity.
In December, Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Spokane Tribe of Indians signed an agreement to support incremental annual releases of water from Lake Roosevelt behind Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.
The agreement delivers surface water to irrigators east of Moses Lake, whose groundwater supplies are rapidly fading. Other beneficiaries are growing urban areas, industrial users, stream flows for salmon, and hundreds of water users whose rights are subject to limits in tight water years.
The legislation requested by Gregoire provides for payments to the tribes for damage to fish and wildlife, and cultural and recreation activities. The mix of interests that came together, including the tribes, county government, state and federal officials, environmental groups and farmers, is as impressive as the results.
Warm relations in Olympia and cooler temperatures in the Cascades are equally productive for water supplies.
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