Yakima River water users went from fearing a drought to anticipating an average year in about a month.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation announced Thursday that officials are expecting a full water year.
The bureau's first water outlook for the irrigation season and recent snow in the Cascade Mountains have helped ease drought concerns.
"February snowfall was incredible with a nearly continuous stream of storms hitting the Cascades throughout much of the month," said Chuck Garner, the bureau's Yakima Project River Operations supervisor, in a statement.
Even if there isn't enough precipitation this spring and if the timing of snowmelt isn't favorable, Garner said they still expect to have an adequate water supply.
The Kennewick, Columbia, Roza and Sunnyside Valley irrigation districts all use Yakima River Basin water to serve properties in Benton and Yakima counties.
The snowpack in the Cascade Mountains increased to about 104 percent of the average snowfall that feeds water to the Lower Yakima River Basin earlier this week, said Scott Pattee, U.S. Department of Agriculture water supply specialist.
"We are in real good shape," he said. "We have really rebounded back."
The turnaround in snowpack has been dramatic this year, said Jim Trull, Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District manager.
Instead of anxiously watching snowpack levels and water forecasts, Trull said it will be a more routine check. The irrigation district is in a better situation than some since two-thirds of its water rights are senior and a third are pro-ratable, which means that water users get a percentage of the water they have the right to use when water is plentiful.
Snowpack is vital because that melting snow during the summer fills the Yakima River so water is available for Mid-Columbia towns, crops and fish.
During an average water year, natural runoff will continue into June, said Scott Revell, Roza Irrigation District manager. But if the weather changes in early April or May, some of the snow could melt and the water could runoff before it is needed.
"You don't really count it until it's there when you need it," Revell said.
Chuck Freeman, Kennewick Irrigation District manager, said officials can't predict spring precipitation or how the snow will melt. That's why it's still important to efficiently use water.
Joel Teeley, Columbia Irrigation District general manager and board secretary, agreed, cautioning that it still could end up being a short year.
The bureau and local irrigation districts still are encouraging water users to conserve water when possible.
A drought would have affected Kennewick and Roza irrigation districts more because they have pro-ratable water rights. Columbia Irrigation District has senior water rights.
Revell said he expects to have 90 percent or more of the water the district has a right to use this year.
And Teeley said he's hoping for at least as good of a water supply year as last year. CID ended up short for a 10-day period and did ask irrigators to consider voluntarily alternating their water use based on their address.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Columbia Irrigation District: Canal filling begins March 20, water ready to use first week of April.
-- Kennewick Irrigation District: Canal filling begins April 1, with first deliveries two weeks later.
-- Roza Irrigation District: Canal filling begins March 17; first deliveries several days later.
-- Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District: Canal filling begins March 18 with water throughout the system by April 1.