Idaho Irrigators Still Have Hope

Published online: Apr 01, 2004
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Idaho irrigators are still hanging onto hope that the Snake River snow basin in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming will continue building reservoir totals as the entire system hit 50 percent of capacity March 31.

American Falls reservoir, the largest on the system, was at 75 percent of capacity but watermasters were moving a portion of that over the next few days to Lake Walcott. Walcott stood at 44 percent capacity but water rights holders from there down the river will need it at capacity to begin the irrigation season in three-to-four weeks.

Highest lake on the system, Jackson Lake, stood at 22 percent full. Island Park measured in at 69 percent. Palisades Reservoir, one of the key holding facilities for irrigation water for the entire eastern Idaho area, stood at 34 percent.

Warmer weather over the last few days is bringing snow melt but officials are gravely concerned that much of that will be soaked into dry soil and will be unavailable as runoff. It is clear the state's irrigators will be facing another short water year as an extended drought seems to be hanging over the state.

Other areas, especially the Bear Lake region in the far southeast corner of the state, was in more dire need of runoff. The lake, which acts as a big storage reservoir for scores of irrigators downstream, is at its lowest level in over 70 years.

Potato seed growers in Grace, ID, who rely on Bear River Basin irrigation water, have already been told their irrigation supplies could be cut by 60,000 acre feet. Last year they received 160,000 acre feet. The lake is at the 5,904-foot elevation, the level at which no more water can be taken.

There are a few bright spots in the state, but like other regions water will have to be carefully managed to get maximum benefit for this year's crops.

While Snake River flow is controlled by the system's holding facilities, it hit a low of 1800 cfs on March 30 in measurements taken at Idaho Falls. This does not bode well as the irrigation system looms and water managers attempt to place water according to water rights users' needs. The recent record high flow for that measuring station was 48,600 cfs hit on June 16, 1997. Minimum low was 900 cfs on Dec. 22, 1990.