Cold and snowy weather that has continued late into winter has led to Washington state’s snowpack supply being on average at 119 percent of normal, which is good news for farmers, fish and anyone who drinks water in Puget Sound.
North Puget Sound is at 124 percent of normal snowpack, followed by the Olympic Mountains at 119 percent. All areas of the state have a healthy snowpack, which should provide ample water for early spring and the irrigation seasons.
The state Department of Ecology said in a press release one area of concern is snowpacks nearing a saturation point with heavy precipitation leading to a faster melt off.
Stream flows for summer months is expected to be normal or above normal for the year when water is most needed between April and September when rainfall is at its lowest.
A healthy snowpack is good for fish, said Teresa Scott, environmental planner for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“When it’s melting slowly it has time to percolate to the ground and contribute to the ground water,” she said.
This keeps streams at an adequate temperature for native salmon and trout, which thrive in cooler streams and rivers. Normal stream levels also provide enough water for fish to navigate their way upstream to spawning grounds. Melting snow seeps into groundwater aquifers and helps recharge them as well.
“We’ve had the luxury of a long, cold, wet winter and a lot of us in the fish world are still kind of hurting over the drought that we had in 2015,” Scott said.
A healthy snowpack is welcome news for those concerned about drought in the state. In 2015 a low snowpack was followed by low rainfall through the spring and summer months leading to a drought. State estimates pegged the agriculture damages of the drought at $336 million.
During the summer of 2015 some 1,570 square miles were consumed by wildfires, or roughly 2.2 percent of the total land in Washington state.