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Limited Water Supply Expected in the West

Natural Resources Conservation Service warns of a limited water supply west of the Continental Divide

Published on: Jan 15, 2014

A limited water supply is predicted west of the Continental Divide, according to data released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center.

Monitoring snowpack of 13 western states, the center's periodic forecasts help farmers and water managers in the West prepare for spring and summer snowmelt and streamflow.

"Right now the West Coast is all red," NRCS Hydrologist Tom Perkins said. "Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry.

Natural Resources Conservation Service warns of a limited water supply west of the Continental Divide
Natural Resources Conservation Service warns of a limited water supply west of the Continental Divide

"But that could all change by the end of the season. This early in the season – who knows? It always changes," Perkins said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center's seasonal forecast is calling for a milder and somewhat drier winter for much of the West.

According to NRCS Meteorologist Jan Curtis, there is a very small chance for normal precipitation on the West Coast.

"The North Cascades in Washington might have a normal year, but Oregon and California are unlikely to have normal precipitation," Curtis said.

NRCS Oregon lead Snow Surveyor Melissa Webb said she isn't alarmed yet.

"Oregon snowpack looks grim right now, but the season is young and storms are on the horizon," Webb said. "While concerned, we're hopeful for some recovery in the next couple of months."

Although NRCS' streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.

In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer.

NRCS scientists analyze the snowfall, air temperature, soil moisture and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.

Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Since the late 1970s, NRCS has been installing, operating and maintaining an extensive, high-elevation automated system called SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the western United States and Alaska.

View January's Snow Survey Water Supply Forecasts map or view information by state.

Source: USDA