Of the many common threads that tie people together across the Hood River Valley, water is among the most prominent, and the most important.
In spring and fall, when it rains, it rains on us all. Summer brings dry weather that stimulates people of all walks of life to get out and enjoy the streams, lakes and rivers woven into the landscape. And in winter, when water falls in the form of snow - and lots more rain - people either rejoice together by carving fresh tracks down the side of Mount Hood or floating swollen rivers in little plastic boats; or they loathe together, huddled indoors, waiting out the dreary months of grey skies and wet pavement.
This time of year, it seems everyone is paying close attention to the weather; especially those who depend on it for their livelihoods.
Farmers, a group linked more closely to weather and water than any avid riverhound or boardhead in the Gorge, are often up before dawn in April, tending to fragile young buds just barely in bloom. This year's cold, late spring is a cause for concern; many trees are in bloom now, and just one bad frosty night can spell disaster for acres of fruit trees. For many farmers, frost season signals the beginning of early mornings and long days that won't end until fruit is picked from their trees and hauled away.
One thing they can count this year that will make their jobs a little easier - barring any freak weather patterns - is a good supply of water throughout the summer. And with such a wet spring, most won't even need to tap into that supply for another couple months.
John Buckley, Craig DeHart and Mike Kleinsmith, managers for East Fork, Middle Fork and Farmers irrigation districts, keep as close of an eye as anyone on the valley's snow packs and water supplies. With optimism for a good summer water season, all three this week noted above-average snow levels and water equivalents.
"Both the reservoirs are overflowing right now, and there's still plenty of snow to melt," said Kleinsmith, who manages the district that serves customers on the west side of the lower valley.
Laurance Lake, in Parkdale, is the larger of the two reservoirs and serves upper valley farm and residential customers in MFID. Kingsley Reservoir, at the base of the west hills about 20 minutes out of Hood River, serves FID customers - about 1,800 from the reservoir to the Columbia, and east to about the Little League field on the heights.
Of the valley's three major irrigation districts, EFID is the most reliant on a good water year.
"One thing we don't have is a reservoir," said Buckley, EFID manager. "So we're entirely dependent on snowpack. Our water comes from the northeast slopes of Mount Hood, from the Clark, Newton and Pollalie drainages. In a drought, or after a bad snow year, when the snowpack has melted down to the glaciers, the water carries a lot more silt. That causes a lot of problems for our system."
Despite EFIC's challenges, Buckley said that, at this point in the season, things are looking very good for the summer. But that outlook, he said, could change quickly in July and August depending on what the