May 01, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Mike Burton of the Natural Resources Conservation Service called on a farmer the other day when it was pouring rain.

Come on in out of the drought, the farmer said jokingly, pointing up the concern that agriculture and other water users are facing due to low snow and water levels.

Not even the rain of the past few days has brought the relief that was needed to improve the regions water outlook.

The final snow and precipitation report of the water year shows that the Grande Ronde, Powder, Burnt and Imnaha river basin is in better shape than most the rest of the state. But the good news ends there, Burton said.

The basins snow water equivalent is at 61 percent of average and total precipitation stands at 68 percent, Mondays Snotel readings showed. And theres not enough snow to provide much relief for irrigators.

The numbers from Snotel sites vary drastically.

At Moss Springs, the snow water equivalent is at 87 percent of average and precipitation is at 78 percent. At Beaver Creek Reservoir, the snow water equivalent is at 6 percent although precipitation is at 79 percent.

At this time of year we depend on snow melt, and the low-elevation sites are mostly free of snow, Burton said.

Only timely rainfall in June will help this years dryland crops, and as those of us in Union County know June rain often falls as hail, Burton said.

The outlook for irrigated crops is even more severe.

Theres no way the streamflow will catch up, he said. A cold, wet summer will mitigate some, but were running low on water already.

State Climatologist George Taylor agrees. Even record-breaking rainfall in the next several months wont overcome the deficit the state is facing, he said.

The soil profile, Burton said, is already filled. And the impact could extend beyond this year. Recharging wetlands and aquifers takes time, and its real possible this year could influence next year, Burton said.