AREA'S SNOW PACK 'OK'

May 02, 2002 12:00 am
ELKHORN MOUNTAINS SNOWPACK: Winter snow clings to the flanks of mountains in the Elkhorns Sunday.  (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
ELKHORN MOUNTAINS SNOWPACK: Winter snow clings to the flanks of mountains in the Elkhorns Sunday. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

The water in the winter snow helps to keep the irrigation ditches full during the summer.

This year's basinwide snow water average was a bit below normal — 92 percent — at the end of April and the official end of the annual measurements by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"At this point, I'm cautiously optimistic," said Mike Burton of the agency. "I don't see a huge tragedy, but farmers should conserve and think about the water situation."

The nearly average winter follows a year of drought, and Burton said the soil has been so dry that it has soaked up water in fields where it would normally pool in early spring.

Burton said he was "surprised at first" when he saw the April measurements from the Snotel sites, but "we didn't have that much precipitation in April — especially snow."

There are areas with especially high water content in the snow, including Tollgate, where the most recent measurement indicated that water makes up 45 percent of the snow pack, Burton said.

"The snow pack is not bad, it's not dire, it's OK," Burton said, "but we had a year of drought."

Dry land crops probably will be all right if the area receives rain in June, as it sometimes does, he said.

— Alice Perry Linker