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Idaho Snowpack Below Average

by Dave Wilkins, Staff Writer
Capital Press - January 17, 2003

BOISE -- Farmers and ranchers in Idaho will need a lot more snow in the mountains this winter to ensure adequate water for crops and livestock come summer.

Winter storms in late December delivered some much-needed snow and rain to the state, but snowpack levels in most areas are still well below the seasonal average.

"The storms the last week of December helped us out a lot, but we still have a long ways to go," said Ron Abramovich, a water supply specialist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise.

Accumulated precipitation for the 2003 water year, which began Oct. 1, 2002, was below normal across the state on Jan. 1.

Total rain and snow combined accumulation ranged from a low of 62 percent of average in the Clearwater Basin in Northern Idaho to 94 percent of average in the Wood and Lost River basins in the central mountains, according to the Idaho Water Supply Outlook Report issued by NRCS.

Snow alone made for even more grim statistics.

Some of the state's lowest snowpack readings on Jan. 1 were in the Clearwater River basin. They ranged from 59 percent of average in the North Fork Clearwater basin to 75 percent of average in the Selway basin.

Snowpack was highest in the Salmon River basin in the Little Salmon and South fork basins at 110 percent of average.

Jan. 1 snowpack levels in the Snake River Basin above Palisades Reservoir were 79 percent of average on Jan. 1. Oakley Basin snowpack was at 73 percent of average, Salmon Falls was at 70 percent and Bruneau Basin at 78 percent.

Streamflow forecasts for the April-September period are equally dismal. Dry soils are expected to soak up much of the initial spring melt.

"What we have to remember is the dry soils that we have going back to last summer and last fall," Abramovich said. "What we've seen in other drought years is the snowpack not being all that efficient in producing a stream flow."

The lowest streamflow forecast for the state is 42 percent of average in the Bear River basin in southeastern Idaho.

"That is the lowest stream flow forecast we've ever issued for the Bear River Basin," Abramovich said.

Idaho also enters the new year with reservoir levels below normal levels. The combined storage for the state's 21 reservoirs and lakes is the fourth-lowest since 1958.

The storage level in the Payette River reservoir system is 89 percent of average, while the Boise River system is 59 percent of average.

In central Idaho, the Mackay Reservoir is 42 percent of average, the fifth-lowest Dec.31 reading in 78 years. Only during the Dust Bowl days during the mid-1930s did Mackay have less water than this year.

Dave Wilkins, Capital Press Staff Writer
Idaho Snowpack Below Average
Capital Press - January 17, 2003

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