It’s raining outside my window right now, but it’s still dry in Eastern Washington:
An irrigation district that serves about 1,400 farmers in the Yakima Valley shut off the water supply yesterday for what is believed to be the first time in April, another sign of the region’s severe drought. The shutdown marked the earliest date the 72,000-acre Roza Irrigation District has interrupted water for irrigators. The Central Washington district interrupted water delivery in 1994 and 2001, both drought years, but those shutoffs didn’t occur until May.
Obviously, snowy mountaintops aren’t just nice to look at; they’re a major economic asset for Cascadia’s farmers, fishers, and power consumers. Which means that warm, dry winters carry a huge cost for the region, especially come summertime.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the drought pans out this summer—not just for agriculture, but also for the energy sector. Everybody knows that energy prices are on the rise, but record gasoline prices are getting most of the attention. There’s far less hoopla about natural gas, which we use to generate much of our electricity, especially when hydropower is slack. But natural gas prices are rising more or less in tandem with oil prices (see the graph at the right, borowed from the WTRG economics website). Coupled with scanty hydropower supplies, high natural gas prices could lead to price spikes for electric power, as happened in the 2001 drought. That’s when a scanty snowpack starts to bite into city folks’ budgets.