Klahhane Ridge south of Port Angeles is shown Thursday, July 8, with little snow on the north face. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Klahhane Ridge south of Port Angeles is shown Thursday, July 8, with little snow on the north face. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Snowpack depleted in Olympics: No water shortage now, but situation could change

The snow has melted from the Olympic Mountains.

That’s normal for this time of year, but officials are starting to eye water conservation where possible as conditions continue to dry out.

Gains made last winter, which ended with a higher-than-normal snowpack in the Olympic Mountains, were lost to less rain than usual and high temperatures in late spring. Snotel sites have little snow to measure.

“Everything is pretty well melted out,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.

“They all melted out pretty much as normal,” he said earlier this month.

The historic heat wave in late June had little impact on the Olympic water basin.

The mountains were just about clear of snow already, Pattee said.

“We were considerably above normal at the peak of the season over there, and so we probably would’ve maintained snow a little out beyond normal and we would’ve if it wasn’t for the such high temperature days,” he said.

“So really, we had pretty much a normal melt time, but it did definitely come up a bit faster than it normally would’ve with the increased snow.”

In addition, evaporation from the ground and rivers is expected to be faster than normal this summer, given continued high temperatures and sunny skies, Pattee said.

The water table is expected to stay at normal levels for the time being, but after a few weeks of hot and dry weather, it will fall and rivers will start to pull from groundwater, Pattee said.

That quickens the process of drying for surrounding vegetation.

“We’re already starting to see that in Eastern Washington, especially in the lower to mid-elevations, where there’s a lot of grass and brush,” Pattee said. “That stuff is tinder dry.”

Areas around the Dungeness River, where water is used for irrigation, may have to cut water use later in summer due to hotter-than-usual conditions, Pattee said.

If river levels drop severely, it will reduce the number of salmon migrations come fall, and that could impact local fisheries especially, Pattee said.

“The flows just get so low, the fish can’t get over the bar to get up the river,” Pattee said.

That happened in 2015, when the salmon runs were disappointing because of low river levels due to a sparse snowpack.

So far this year, no concerns have been expressed about water shortages in mountain-fed streams from the Olympics, but that could change.

“I think this is another really prime year to stress the need for conserving the water supply that we have,” Pattee said.

“It doesn’t seem to make sense to conserve now when we don’t have a water shortage, but as much water as we can leave in the rivers, then that will sustain those groundwater supplies for longer and hopefully help us get through the upcoming months.”

More in News

Restaurant owners file lawsuit against vaccine proof order

Clallam County and Dr. Allison Berry challenged

COVID-19 outbreak stems from Thanksgiving gathering

Clallam County Public Health officials were tracking on Thursday the first reported… Continue reading

A map from Olympic Disposal's conditional use permit application shows details of the company's proposed waste transfer station and recycling in Carlsborg.
Olympic Disposal proposing transfer station, recycling center in Carlsborg

A proposal to build a transfer station and recycling center in Carlsborg… Continue reading

Visitors to Railroad Bridge Park enjoy the colorfully-lit historic bridge earlier this week. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell
A look into Jamestown’s Christmas lights effort

Contractor believes annual project could be biggest in state

Three deaths from COVID reported in Clallam County

Three more Clallam County residents have died from COVID-19, raising the total… Continue reading

Meghan Sullivan
Community news briefs — Dec. 1, 2021

Library hires public services director The North Olympic Library System has hired… Continue reading

Home Town Holidays: Event brings season’s spirits

A rainy gray day didn’t stop locals and visitors from attending Sequim’s… Continue reading

Sequim goes into 2022 with $31.7 balanced budget

No utility or property tax rates passed by city council

Attorney group offers free legal aid in person, by phone

The County Pro Bono Lawyers group presents a legal aid clinic, a… Continue reading

Most Read