Idaho Water outlook grows grimmer : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Saturday, March 10, 2001

Water outlook grows grimmer Dry winter will hurt irrigators, power suppliers

By Charles Etlinger The Idaho Statesman

Much of Idaho's water supply picture is even more dismal than it was a month ago.

Only two of the past 40 years have seen less snowpack in the Boise Basin, and this late in the season there's no way the region can catch up, says one leading water expert.

The outlook for electricity generation and reservoir recreation is poor compared with past years.

And the projected availability of water for irrigated farming in the Treasure Valley continues to be barely adequate.

Precipitation in February -- 39 percent of average in the Boise, Weiser and Payette drainages -- failed to build up the already low snowpack that fills the reservoirs and rivers when it melts.

With just one month left in the snow-accumulation season, "We don't have a chance of recovery at all this year," said Ron Abramovich, a U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service water supply specialist.

The Boise Basin snowpack is 59 percent of average, the third-lowest since 1961. Only 1977 and 1991 had less snow.

Irrigation water supplies will be marginal at best, Abramovich said.

Warren Roberts, who grows seed peas, corn, clover, barley and wheat on 300 acres west of Caldwell, expects to have enough water, thanks to the senior water rights of his irrigation district. He also has wells to beef up his water supply.

But Roberts hears that some farmers might be short of water to grow seed corn. "It is going to be a tight year," he said.

A cool, wet spring could still help farmers, by delaying the snowmelt and the initial irrigation demand, Abramovich said.

Streamflows are going to be lower this year. The lowest forecasts call for 40 to 50 percent of average in the Weiser, Payette, Boise, Big Wood and Hells Canyon drainages.

Idaho Power Co. depends on its Hells Canyon dams for 60 percent of its hydropower output, but stream forecasts indicate far less will be generated, spokesman Dennis Lopez said.

Reduced water supply is one reason the company is seeking an electric rate increase.

The Boise River reservoirs upstream of Boise are only half full. Boating will be limited compared with past years," said Rick Wells, area water operations manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

But river runners will be able to put in earlier this year -- when the snow starts melting -- because there won't be dangerously high early flows, Abramovich said.

"There won't be a high-water season," he said

-- Martin Thompson (, March 11, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ