BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Two weeks ago, farmer Curt Dykstra was praying for rain.

"I was getting real nervous. I mean, the snow was all gone and the ground was really starting to dry up," says Dykstra.

He showed me the canal he uses to irrigate his land and tells me he's been preparing to put it to use, on time, thankful for two weeks of spotty snow.

"Thank goodness we're finally getting a little moisture. It's a godsend...It's the difference between our crops burning up and being successful," says Dykstra.

Many areas of Montana were pounded with much needed precipitation. It's added to our snowpack and the potential for better spring runoff. The numbers are even looking better than last year, but experts say those figures can be deceiving.

"We're looking at lower values than last year, even though the averages or normals that we compare to are showing up slightly better outlook but that's because those normals have changed in the last year," explains Natural Resource Conservation Service Water Specialist Brian Domonkos.

Averages change every thirty years so, we're no longer counting the wet decade between 1971 to 1980.

Translation? Even though we're at 90 percent of normal, the new, drier normal is making things look rosier than they really are.

"Hopefully, we will see above average rain and precipitation for the months of April through June and hopefully we can tack on more water there. The fact of the matter is, we don't necessarily know that we're going to get any so, at this point in time, we should start to plan for below average stream flow runoff, below average stream flows for the remainder of the spring and summer," explains Domonkos.  

Domonkos tells me the Columbia River Basin and the Flathead are doing well but the Jefferson is very low. However, when compared to Colorado, Montana, Northern Idaho and Washington are doing very well. Colorado is at 70 percent of the new normal.

The new normal is not just a tool for scientists. It's also spurred a shift in the way of irrigation systems.

Sunshine Irrigation owner Kirk Hone says the irrigation systems he builds today have evolved, just like mother nature's "normals."

"We used to be able to count on 15 inches of rainfall and design according to that," says Hone.

Now, he says his whole business revolves around helping his customers conserve water and pre-plan.

"It's easier to turn off the system than to wish there were 10 days in a week," says Hone.

It's a reality folks like Dykstra know all too well.