Southern Idaho Water Outlook Brighterby Dave Wilkins
Capital Press, January 6, 2006
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- For Southern Idaho irrigators, the new year couldn't be starting out much better.
Snowpack levels in early January are "much better than they were a year ago," said Vince Alberdi, general manager of the Twin Falls Canal Co., which delivers irrigation water to about 203,000 acres of farmland in south-central Idaho.
At the beginning of 2005, snowpack levels in the Boise Basin were just 77 percent of average. This year, they were 139 percent of average on Jan. 3.
In the Snake River Basin above Palisades Reservoir, snowpack was 82 percent of average a year ago. This year, it's 123 percent.
The Owyhee Basin in southwestern Idaho has improved from 62 percent of average snowpack a year ago to 104 percent.
Other basins in the region are in similarly good shape. Snowpack levels in the Big Lost, Big Wood, Little Wood and Oakley basins are all at least 150 percent of average.
The improved snow accumulation is, "a great way to start the year," Alberdi said.
Reservoir storage levels are also looking better than they did a year ago. The Upper Snake River reservoir system was half full on Jan. 2, more than four months before the start of the irrigation season.
Water managers haven't yet declared an end to the drought in Southern Idaho, but some are beginning to think the end of the current cycle may be in sight.
"This year has felt different to me," Alberdi said. "The patterns are different. I'm no weatherman, but it just feels as though we may be entering something a bit different."
Not only is the water supply situation looking better, but the legal wrangling over Northwest water and salmon took a turn in favor of water users in late December, leaders of the Coalition for Idaho Water said.
Federal Judge James Redden in Portland denied a request by environmental groups, including Idaho Rivers United and Idaho Steelhead and Salmon United, for the federal government to take more water for flow augmentation during the coming year.
The judge found that the prevailing rationale for flow augmentation is inadequate.
"This is a historic decision with immense importance to Idaho water users," coalition spokesman Norm Semanko said. "We applaud the well-reasoned, insightful decision by Judge Redden, which validates what we have been saying all along: Flow augmentation amounts to nothing more than a failed experiment."
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