January 02, 2002 11:00 pm

The early winter snows have produced a high water content much better than last year and there are nearly three months of snowfall remaining.

Mike Burton of the Natural Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday the lower the elevation, the wetter the snow this year. For example at Mount Howard, nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, the water content of the snow is only 101 percent of normal, but at Beaver Reservoir, 5,100 feet, the water content is 133 percent.

The lower elevations are more susceptible to warmer days, and the snow can turn to water and go downhill in a hurry, he said.

Overall, however, the news is pretty good, with wetter snow than usual for early winter, Burton said. If the storm trends continue, Northeast Oregon could receive sufficient snow to provide adequate water for next summers irrigation.

The mountain snows that affect the Grande Ronde River Basin are showing an average water content at 133 percent of normal, with nearly every location showing water content above normal for the time of year. Most measurements are taken automatically through Snow-Tel, but Burton took physical measurements late last month at Meacham and Tollgate. At both places the water content was about 150 percent of normal.

Burton said the water content of the snowpack is the indicator of the amount of water that will be available in the summer.

We dont really like to talk about snow depth, he said. We like to talk about water content.