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Deepening Northwest Drought Poses Challenges For Farmers

Courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA.
A recent federal government graphic shows the latest meager snow and water levels for Washington state.

A drive across the Northwest quickly reveals things look really dry everywhere.

In Oregon’s dramatic Gorge, the normally spring-green cheatgrass has already cured to a rusty hue. On Washington’s White Pass there are just traces of snow clinging under the shade. In Idaho, vast forests are drying out quickly from lack of snow. And the consequences could be severe in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

The Yakima Valley is one of the entire Northwest’s highest-value agricultural zones. Think sweet cherries, apples, mint and wine grapes.

But many of those crops' farmers will have a hard time getting the water they need this summer.

A recent federal report tallies up the Yakima Valley’s high-mountain snowpack at just 11 percent of normal for the start of May. That’s the lowest on record.

Another new ag-weather report says the Yakima Valley town of Moxee didn’t get a drop of rain in April.

The one-two punch of little snow and minimal rain has further drained the amount of water available for Yakima Valley farmers this summer.

Those with junior water rights expect to get less than 40 percent of their normal water now.

So Northwest states are bracing for a summer with more fires, and less water for crops and fish.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.