It’s looking like maintaining an adequate water supply will not be an issue this spring and summer in Hood River County — as long as users do their part to conserve.
“It is important that each and every one uses water wisely, and then we should be okay for this year’s water supply,” said East Fork Irrigation District Manager John Buckley Tuesday.
Area experts say water conservation, even in a non-drought year, is recommended. This way, residents will be more prepared to deal with drought years as they come and ensure sufficient water levels should August and September be hot and dry.
“I’ve talked to different irrigation managers and early in the winter season and they were sweating it,” said Jordan Kim, Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District manager. “But things have really turned around since then … Things have recovered thanks to the big snowstorms we’ve had on the mountain in the last month or so.
“But we just don’t have the snowpack in the glaciers that we once had on the mountain, as sort of a reservoir up there,” Kim added.
“Lower temperatures and moisture has helped considerably this past spring,” echoed Buckley. “January and February were looking grim for this year’s snowpack. However, there has been a considerable turnaround since then.
“There seems to be a considerable amount of snowpack on Mount Hood since then, and from reading the report from Sno-Tel, we are about 90 to 100 percent of normal currently. With heavy snow during March and April, we are much better off than we were three or four months ago.”
However, a lack of glacial snowpack, coupled with climate models, means water conservation is important, even with an encouraging outlook, said Cindy Thieman, coordinator of Hood River Watershed Group.
“Climate modeling indicates that in the next 20 to 40 years, stream flows in the Hood River Basin will decrease by about 20 percent and droughts will become more frequent,” she said. “Many Hood River Valley farmers are upgrading their irrigation equipment to high efficiency systems so that they are prepared and more resilient in a drought year. Homeowners would be wise to follow suit, so that they can do their part to conserve water in the long run.”
Buckley said that East Fork does not have reservoir capacity, so it is dependent on the mountain for water. Supplies are generally good April through July, but should warmer conditions occur in August and the first half of September, that can change quickly.
“We sometimes must tighten up with water demand, especially if we are dealing with a drought,” he said. “Temperature impacts us throughout the summer and will affect the demand for water. The district tries to do its best to keep water instream for fish survival; therefore, it becomes a balancing act between farming and fish.”
“It’s helpful to be conscientious,” said Kim. “… We could get a hot stretch early on and that would wipe out the snowpack real quick. If it stays mellow, maybe it will hang in there longer and stretch it out.”
Thieman sees water conservation in non-drought years as good preparation for inevitable drought.
“Taking on an upgrade for one part of your yard in a non-drought year is a lot less stressful than waiting until we have a drought,” Thieman said. “And while residential use is not as big as agricultural use, urban and residential water conservation still makes a significant difference to individual streams, like Lake Branch, where the City of Hood River’s water comes from.”
“Water is a precious source for everyone’s use,” said Buckley. “Fish also need it for survival, along with our everyday living. Water should be used wisely because it is one of our main sources of life.”
WATER CONSERVATION TIPS
“Use micro sprinklers as they are more efficient for irrigating. They use about a third of the water compared to a large rotating sprinkler,” said Buckley. “Water seems to penetrate better into the soil. Larger volumes of water seem to create leaching and more run off.”
Kim said the worst type of sprinkler to use is a butterfly-model because they can put out about eight gallons of water a minute compared to the half-gallon of a micro sprinkler. “That’s way beyond anyone’s water right,” she said. “And if you’re using domestic, that’s another story.”
“Watering yards, gardens, etc. should be done early in the morning or evenings when the air is much cooler (for) less evaporation,” said Buckley. Adds Kim, “Don’t water when it’s windy, which is kind of hard to do here. We encourage people to use sprinklers that apply water low — the more you shoot in the air, the more you’ll lose to wind and evaporation loss.”
“We encourage people to water infrequently but deeply,” said Kim, “which can promote growth of deep root systems so they can withstand a longer dry time. If you water really frequently and water is always at the surface, then your grass, in particular, but other plants too won’t be encouraged to grow deep root systems, (and) that doesn’t do you or your plant any good.” Buckley recommends not leaving a sprinkler in the same area for extended hours or days, as this wastes water and leaves other areas of the yard without.
Kim also recommends looking at the other ways water is used and make changes there. “Whenever possible, use native and drought tolerant plants in landscaping,” she said.
“They need less of everything. Think about sweeping your driveway instead of hosing it off. Manage weeds — mulch is great because it holds water there longer, keeps plants moist longer and it can help suppress weeds … people are amazed by how much water weeds can take up,” she said.