High Pressure Hangs Over Western U.S.

Published online: Feb 26, 2005
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A high-pressure weather system hanging over the inland West is worrying water watchers as the winter snow season fast comes to an end.

Every day that nice sunny weather persists, puts the threat of an extended drought into a sixth year for many states such as Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Montana.

Idaho potato growers especially are very nervous as two threats to their irrigation water--outside snowpack runoff--are threatening the 2005 crop for hundreds of irrigators in eastern and southern Idaho.

Settlement of the Nez Perce tribe water rights agreement by the state legislature, will allow the tribe in the Lewiston, ID, area to give up rights to Snake River water. But it will be a very costly deal for the entire state of Idaho if all parties accept the settlement offer as the legislature tries to protect Snake River water for historical uses.

In addition, Idaho legislators are weighing in on the matter of a "water call" by irrigators in the Twin Falls area and trout farms owners in the Snake River Canyon at Thousand Springs near Hagerman, ID.

The springs that have given them plentiful water in the past are running low. Ground water pumpers up stream--all the way up the Snake River Valley--are being blamed for reducing flow to senior water rights holders downstream.

But the biggest threat to everyone is the amount of snowpack runoff that will end up in storage reservoirs before the irrigation season begins in two months.

Pile on top of that a slow winter market for fresh potatoes and growers are very discouraged. United Fresh Potato Growers of Idaho is making an effort to take out supply by calling for a diversion for other uses of the potatoes.

You could say the only thing growers have going is the warm weather that is quickly melting snowpack in the valleys and will probably allow them a quick jump on spring work. While that may not be construed as a benefit, it will at least allow them to take advantage of what ground moisture they can to get spring grain crops planted.

Potato planting in the Columbia Basin of Washington got under way this week. Washington water watchers are concenered about historical low snow packs that are believed leading to lowered ground water for many pumpers in that state.