Reclamation leaders say Yakima Basin water supply levels full for irrigation season

YAKIMA, Wash.--Good news for Yakima Valley farmers and growers who use irrigation water.

The latest report from the Bureau of Reclamation shows they should have a good water supply for the upcoming season.

Strong water supply are three words that are magic to the ears of local growers.

"Adequate water makes all the difference in the world on the fruit," said Barrett Orchards owner Mark Barrett.

The Bureau of Reclamation's March forecast says the Yakima Basin's water levels are full for growers with senior water rights and at 96-percent for those with junior rights.

Meaning those in agriculture should benefit when irrigation season gets underway.

"In 2015 we ended up at a 47-percent pro-rationing and that has several hundred million dollars of impact to the growers just by loss of crops and loss of farms that they have to fallow and things like that so we're definitely not seeing that type of pattern this year," said Bureau of Reclamation Yakima Office manager Chad Stuart.

Reclamation leaders say the reservoirs and snowpack are slightly below normal.

But with the amount of precipitation this past winter, supplies should remain steady provided the weather stays cool enough for a slow runoff.

"The forecast is showing a very cold and wet spring all the way up until maybe early April so if we can continue to build precipitation in the snowpack in the mountains it'll be a very good year," Stuart said.

Barrett says the high water levels mean better quality fruit for growers and consumers.

"In soft fruits and stone fruits our fruit swells a lot at the end right before we pick it and because of that we have to have adequate water, especially when it's really hot out," he said.

With cherry season around the corner, Barrett's hoping the weather plus extra water equals a better harvest compared to previous years.

"We actually might end up being on the average this year for cherries which means we won't be blooming until April sometime which would be a good thing," Barrett said.

Proving that a longer, wet winter does have its advantages.

Reclamation leaders add that because of the unpredictability of the weather, anyone who uses Yakima Basin irrigation water should still be conservative during irrigation season.

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