April rains do little for Idaho water levels

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April rains do little for water levels

Low snowpacks leave Idaho facing summer shortage

By Mark Warbis The Associated Press Idaho Department of Water Resources Natural Resources Conservation Service

Plentiful April showers delayed mountain snowmelt but did virtually nothing to ease the drought that has left streams and reservoirs at unusually low levels throughout Idaho, government water officials said Tuesday.

"A lot of the melt water is going in the ground before it reaches the river," Ron Abramovich of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service told colleagues on the Idaho Water Supply Committee.

He and others compared conditions to the severe drought years of 1977 and 1992.

"There have been other dry years like the one we are about to experience. We made it through those years and will again," the report said. "Conservation and wise use are the keys for stretching water supplies as far as possible this year."

As a light rain fell outside, experts from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service detailed a bleak outlook for this summer's irrigation season.

But, the committee decided not to meet again, barring an emergency, until a debriefing session after the water year ends in October.

April precipitation ranged from 107 percent of average in southeastern Idaho's Bear River basin to 152 percent of average in central Idaho's Salmon River basin.

But precipitation totals for the water year that last Oct. 1 still ranged from a low of 59 percent of average in the Panhandle to a high of 71 percent in the Bear River drainage.

And despite April's slowdown, the meager mountain snowpack was still melting out nearly a month earlier than usual in some areas.

The streamflow of some rivers is forecast to reach only 20 percent to 40 percent of average across southern and central Idaho, with some basins near record low volumes of water.

The highest forecasts are for 60 percent to 70 percent of average in eastern Idaho's Henrys Fork basin.

"The impacts of lack of snow will soon be felt as snowmelt streamflow peaks are low, and streams recede to minimum flow levels by midsummer," according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service's May 1 Idaho Basin Outlook Report. "By summer's end, many reservoirs will be at their minimum levels."

Water typically begins building up in reservoirs during March and April, but not this year. Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Little Wood Reservoir were 88 percent and 97 percent full, respectively, to start the month. Elsewhere, however, the situation appears to be dire as water users draw down reservoirs earlier than usual, and little if any water is likely to be left to carry over into next year.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 16, 2001

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