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Summer Water Outlook Has Grounds For Optimism As Well As Caution

April 1 is, on average, generally considered the date of the peak snowpack in the Northwest. And around now, is when many irrigation districts begin filling their canals to get ready for watering season.

There are grounds for optimism as well as caution.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service is preparing an updated snow survey and water supply forecast. Scott Oviatt, one of the specialists working on that in Portland, said water users have reason to be optimistic about the summer given that the snowpack measures "near normal or slightly above normal" across the Northwest.

"We still have the possibility of an early melt-out if we were to have extended periods of warm and dry conditions,” Oviatt said. “So we are reminding people to be cautionary."

Oviatt said the outlook is much improved compared to six months ago when we entered winter with a strong El Niño. That climate phenomenon brought warmer-than-normal temperatures, as expected, but against the odds the region managed to accumulate adequate snowpack.

The National Weather Service also forecasts water supply for April to September. The agency's Northwest River Forecast Center foresees runoff volumes right around normal on the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers where the Northwest's biggest hydropower dams operate.

Reservoir storage throughout the Northwest looks good according to real-time monitoring maps published by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. That’s a big change from this time last year when state agencies were deep into drought planning because of poor snowpack.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.