All mountain stations across Washington that measure snowpack are reporting the same number: zero.

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All mountain stations across Washington that measure snowpack are reporting the same number: zero.

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t any snow at higher elevations. There are glaciers up there,” said Jeff Marti of the state Department of Ecology. “It does mean the snowpack — what we depend on for our water supply — has essentially gone to zero already for the summer.”

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Marti said record-high temperatures from October to March kept rain falling, rather than snow. What little snow fell didn’t last.

“Some basins where we expect to see snow last until late June, the snow is already gone and has been gone since late May,” said Marti, who added that about 40 percent of the state’s rivers are at record lows and flowing slowly.

Low water levels could hamper fish migration, and thousands of Yakima basin farmers will have to ration or conserve water this summer.


Related video: The Northwest’s snowpack drought

Thousands of Yakima basin farmers will be short of water this summer, in a year marked by a stunning lack of snow to feed a river that sustains crops worth more than $2 billion annually. Read more. (Steve Ringman & Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)    

Some farmers expect to lose money on strained crops.

“This corn is trying to come up but it should be twice as high,” Andre Curfman said earlier this month. “It will recover some but won’t reach its full potential. This is getting ugly fast.”

Teresa Scott, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s drought coordinator, said the agency has been preparing for drought since February.

“Streams are going to get low and they’re going to get hot. Fish are going to die,” said Scott.

Scott said salmon and bull trout migrations are expected to be particularly problematic.

“We have a forecast of 1.3 million pink salmon for the Dungeness River and it’s impossible to imagine where we would put them all. The water is already low over there,” said Scott.

Seattle Public Utilities is assuring the state and its customers that the snowpack drought should not stress Seattle’s water supply.

Alex Chen, the agency’s Director of Water Resource Management, said the agency’s models show reservoirs are below average, but in a normal range for this time of year.

Chen said the city was able to rely on rainwater instead of snow melt to fill its reservoirs fully this spring.

The hot, dry weather since has pushed consumption above normal and the agency is monitoring carefully, he said.

Chen said SPU has rarely asked customers to curtail water use in the past, and he did not expect that to happen this year.

“If the conditions change, we’ll let folks know if we want them to change their habits,” he said.

For rafters running nearby rivers, the season started sooner and will end earlier for rivers reliant on snow melt. Brad Sarver, president and owner of Blue Sky Outfitters, said his company has been tracking flow on the Wenatchee and Methow Rivers closely.

Sarver said 2005 was a record low water year.

“We’re probably going to set some new records just barely underneath that one,” he predicted. “Last year, we ran the Wenatchee through Labor Day weekend. This year we’ll probably shut down end of July.”

Slower water isn’t all bad news for Sarver’s company. The company’s also in the tubing business, where more mellow flow works just fine.

“I was going to start the tours in July, but with the water levels and temperatures so hot, it was good to start in the beginning of June.”