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Economic and dam related articles

Idaho Snowpack Levels Improve

by Dave Wilkins, Staff Writer
Capital Press, February 15, 2006

Some mountain basins have already accumulated more snow than they normally do all winter long, and a few reservoirs have started to make flood-control releases.

Such is the improved water situation in Idaho halfway through winter.

Snowpack levels in most basins in Southern Idaho are running 40 to 60 percent above average and just above average in the northern part of the state.

Snowpack levels in the Oakley, Salmon Falls and Bruneau basins are some of the best in the state at 50 to 64 percent above average. They've already exceeded their seasonal peaks usually reached in early April, according to the Feb. 1 Idaho water supply outlook released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"This is some of the best snow we've had since 1999 or 1997, depending on the basin," said Ron Abramovich, NRCS water supply specialist in Boise.

On Feb. 7, snowpack was 126 percent of average in the Snake River basin above Palisades Reservoir. A year ago on the same date, the level was at 72 percent of average.

The Oakley Basin is at 164 percent of average, compared with 79 percent a year ago, and the Boise Basin is at 142 percent of average, compared with 60 percent at the same time last year.

The lowest snowpack levels are in the northern part of the state, but even those are twice as high as a year ago.

Snow levels in the Panhandle region were at 108 percent of average on Feb. 7, compared with 50 percent of average a year ago. The Clearwater Basin was at 107 percent of average, compared with 53 percent a year ago.

"With Idaho's snowpacks currently at 100 to 160 percent of average, this means that without any more precipitation between now and April 1, snowpack would range from 65 percent of average in Northern Idaho to 105 percent in Southern Idaho on April 1," Abramovich wrote in the Feb. 1 report.

Idaho has seen above-average precipitation for three months running in November, December and January.

Reservoir storage is looking more promising with several dams making flood control releases to maintain storage space for the spring runoff, Abramovich said.

Releases are being made from the Boise, Owyhee, Little Wood and Palisades reservoirs.

Does all this mean that the drought is over?

It all depends on where you live and what the source of your water is, Abramovich said.

Ranchers who rely on water for dryland grazing and farmers who depend on natural river flow or runoff for most of their water should be among the first to feel recovery from the abundant precipitation.

Farmers who depend on groundwater wells for the bulk of their irrigation water could be among the last to see a full recovery.

"With reservoirs and groundwater levels still low in parts of central and eastern Idaho, and these basins recovering from nearly the lowest six-year total streamflow levels on record, it may take two or three wet years in a row to put a bigger dent in the cumulative drought deficit," Abramovich said.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Idaho Snowpack Levels Improve
Capital Press, February 10, 2006

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