Water Users Getting Nervousby Jennifer Sandmann
Times-News, March 1, 2002
… Snowpack better than last year, but not enough to make up for low reservoirs
TWIN FALLS -- The water year looks drier and drier as winter winds down.
Farmers and hydropower generators are placing bets on spring -- the wild card, as Twin Falls Canal Co.'s general manager Vince Alberdi calls it.
A wet spring, or even a cool spring that reduces water demand, still could improve the picture.
The snowpack is better than last year's miserly offering, but it remains below normal. Last year reservoirs had ample storage. By the end of the 2001 water year, the reservoirs nearly were empty.
"We're a lot more nervous than we were a month ago," said Mark Croghan, a hydrologic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation in Burley.
The net difference when comparing last year's snowpack and reservoir storage with this year is about the same, Croghan said. The better snowpack showing is forecast to make up for the nearly 1 million acre feet less of reservoir storage water on hand this year. That could result in a water year much like that of 2001 -- a tough one.
The Twin Falls Canal Co., one of the oldest and largest irrigation projects, is sitting in a better position than many water companies. The bulk of its water comes from American Falls Reservoir, which fills from springs flowing into the reservoir. The reservoir is 66 percent full, while other key reservoirs that rely directly on winter snowpack are less than 30 percent full.
The canal company is telling farmers to use caution when mapping out their plans for crops and rotations this year, Alberdi said. As long as natural flows are available, he said deliveries of three-quarters of miner's inch will be made. Once those die down, the company will cut back to five-eighths of a miner's inch -- a full share. A miner's inch is a flow of nine gallons of water a minute.
For groundwater pumpers who must meet the terms of an agreement they made last year with surface water users, some water cutbacks could be in store if the water situation doesn't improve.
"We're feeling pretty tenuous," said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Ground Water Appropriators.
The association is working on finding the replacement water needed to restore some of the water senior surface water users have lost to pumping. The agreement calls for about 50,000 acre feet of replacement water pumpers would use in lieu of their deep wells. If it's not available, pumpers must use less water to make up for it.
"There are a lot of alternatives to look at, but we hope we don't have to go there," Tominaga said.
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