February 25, 2002 11:00 pm

Late last fall and into January it appeared that the mountains of Northeast Oregon could get a banner snow year.

As February ends, however, the snow depth and the water content are running about average, measuring 106 percent of normal throughout the Grande Ronde Basin.

Average is much better than the level for March 2001, when the overall snowpack, with 49 percent of the normal water content, led to a long, dry summer.

On several mountains that affect the Grande Ronde Basin the snow depth is somewhat less than average, but the water content is high. Water content is an important indicator of future irrigation.

For example, the snow on Mount Howard, at 74 percent of average, contains 109 percent of the average water content. The Beaver Creek Reservoir has received 98 percent of the normal snowfall, but the water content is at 135 percent. Such measurements signal an average amount of water flowing into irrigation ditches during the summer, but other conditions, such as a too quick snow melt or extremely dry spring, can also affect summer flows.

March is often one of the best months for snow in the high elevations, according to Mike Burton of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

East of the Blue Mountains, the summers water availability does not look as plentiful. A news summary from Idaho Power reports that in the mountains upstream of Brownlee Reservoir the snowpack is less than 83 percent of normal.

The company reported that within the entire Snake River Basin, precipitation is at only 6 percent of normal for February, and Januarys precipitation was less than 60 percent of normal.

West of the Cascades, water conditions are much higher than in the Grande Ronde Basin, with the Willamette River Basin reporting current water content at 142 percent of average, and the lower Columbia River basin at 153


From Observer staff reports