According to the National Weather Service forecast there is a 60 percent chance of an El Niño weather pattern forming this fall with the chances increasing to 70 percent this winter.

In Saturday’s Daily Record, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials talked about this past water year, as well as plans and expectations for the coming year.

This year went pretty well — no prorationing for junior water rights holders. It was a dry summer. Ironically, the only rain early in the summer fell when some farmers had recently harvested timothy hay on the ground. Overall, though, it was a good summer for local agriculture.

Looking forward, the question is what does an El Niño winter mean for next year’s water supply? An El Niño winter typically means a stormy winter on the West Coast, a wet winter across the south, and a warmer-than-average winter in the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rocky Mountains.

The uncertainty arises when applying those general statements to specific locations. For example if there is more precipitation and it remains cold enough for snow at the higher elevations, that’s good news for the Kittitas Valley and the Yakima River Basin. But if that precipitation takes the form of rain in the mountains, that’s not good news.

While that may be obvious, the solutions that account for those variables are far more complex. It is timely to have conversations about the uncertainties we face in terms of water supply on an annual basis because we re in the middle of the campaigns for both the 8th and 4th Congressional District seats.

Those two seats are important because those representatives do the heavy lifting on the federal level for the needs of the Yakima Basin Integrated Management Plan — the planning that accounts for future water supply needs.

Probably the biggest question mark when Kittitas County switched from the 4th to the 8th District was how well our West Side-based elected official would represent us on water issues. Western water law is complex and the people who understand devote an extraordinary amount of time to the issue.

As it turned out 8th District Rep. Dave Reichert worked well with 4th District Rep. Dan Newhouse (prior to that Rep. Doc Hastings) on water issues in relation to the basin plan.

That job will now fall to either Democrat Kim Schrier or Republican Dino Rossi. The population base for the 8th is centered around Issaquah, but water is a critical issue not just for Kittitas County but the economy for the region. As we get into the campaigns and encounter candidates at forums and events, we need to get a better feel for how each will handle water issues.

We can’t control the weather but we do have some say in who we elect and how they plan for the region to meet water needs in the face of changing weather patterns. This election is a good opportunity to share our concerns and learn more about how the 8th District representative will represent this county’s needs.


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