Idaho To See `Tight' Water Supplies

Published online: Jun 10, 2003
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.>Idaho irrigators will see the third straight "tight" water year as a drought that has limited supplies stretches into another irrigation season.

Snake River water master Ron Carlson of Idaho Falls, ID, said upper Snake River reservoir levels have been dropping fast after snow pack melt peaked.

The entire Snake River reservoir system stood at 64.6 percent full this morning, almost identical to the 64.8 percent level on June 11, 2002. Carlson says less water was stored because of the high usage rates the past several weeks.

At one point, he stated, canals were drawing 6,000 cfs more than the same time last year.

He also noted that 1905 water rights are the last ones being filled. He says if stream levels continue to drop and more canals begin using storage water, managers will have to do all they can to lower diversion rates.

In other news, Carlson says the rental pool system has been changed for this year. Unlike previous years the rental pool served as a useful mechanism for transfer of storage water from canals with excess supplies to those that were short.

Because of the "last-to-fill" rule, canals that put water in the rental pool have now found that space allocated has not filled for several years. This has led to a breakdown in the process, as canal companies have not wanted to risk next year's water supply by allocated more space to the rental pool.

The result, Carlson explained, has been basically "every man for himself," as canal companies have been forced to make private deals among themselves in order to secure additional water supplies.

Under new rental rules, a formula using basic supply-and-demand principles sets the price, which will become the main allocating mechanism for irrigation water. These rules will dictate when water will be available for downstream uses, based on stream-flow projections.

Carlson said that water supplies should be adequate in most areas of potato production. This will especially turn around after earlier crops are harvested.