Idaho's Water Picture Dire

Published online: Jul 21, 2003
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Idaho's eastern/southern water picture is looking more bleak as the extremely hot, record-setting temperatures drag on.

During the last two weeks, above-average temperatures and evapotranspiration rates that haven't been seen in years have hit the areas.

Reservoir storage water is becoming non-existent. That makes the Idaho rental pool very hard to manage, according to Ron Carlson, Snake River watermaster.

Already 11 eastern and southern Idaho counties have been given emergency drought declarations. They include some key potato growing areas such as Madison, Bingham, Cassia, Power, Lincoln, Fremont, Clark, Butte, Caribou and Cassia. An order for Jefferson County is pending.

Reservoirs are quickly drying up as great amounts of water have been drawn out during the first half of the summer. Palisades Reservoir stands at 23 percent of capacity. Some 44,038-acre feet of water were drawn out in the five days between July 16-20.

American Falls reservoir also stands at 23 percent. Giving hope to Water District One's plight is Jackson Lake, which is at 81 percent with some storage water still available.

Southern and eastern Idaho have seen temperatures soaring from 95 to 100 degrees F for the first time in decades. The forecast for this week is the same. No measurable rain has fallen in the area all summer.

Carlson said there are shortages showing up all over the Snake River system, be they storage rights, flow rights, rental pool availability, and the fact Palisades had very little accrual of storage water from last winter.

"We are already going back to 1889 priority water rights this week," he said. Irrigators in the Blackfoot, ID, area hold some of the oldest rights going back to 1884. Others will have to fare the best they can, renting where they can and jostling for what water is available.

Don Hale, Blackfoot, ID, chairman of the Committee of Nine (canal companies), said some canals are limiting flows and some are rotating seven days on and seven days off. He said the Snake River at Blackfoot would be dry right now if it wasn't for storage water passing through to water rights holders downstream.