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Water Supply Better than '01

by Ken Dey
Idaho Statesman, March 8, 2002

But experts say levels are still below normal

Winter storms that stayed away from Idaho in February are taking a big bite out of this yearīs expected water supply, but experts said Thursday the state is still better off than last year.

"We still have six weeks to go," said Ron Abram-ovich, a water supply specialist with the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service in Boise. "Weīll see what March brings, and hopefully weīll have a wetter spring."

After January, Abram-ovich was predicting a near-normal year for the majority of the state, but based on current snowpack levels he said irrigation water supplies now are expected to be only "marginally adequate" for the year.

Across the state, stream- flow predictions are down 5 to 20 percent from last month.

But outdoor enthusiasts still should have plenty of water, Abramovich said.

Most local reservoirs, including Lucky Peak and Arrowrock, are expected to fill, he said. The only exception is Anderson Ranch, which was severely depleted last year and isnīt expected to fill this year, but should still have enough water for fishing and boating.

Local rivers also are expected to have normal floating seasons with some notable exceptions.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon has twice the amount of snow as last year, which should mean a much longer season this year, Abramovich said.

Across the state, stream flow forecasts for the year range from 42 percent of average in the Bear River area of Southeast Idaho and 120 percent of average in North Idaho.

Despite the drop-off in February, Abramovich said the state is still better off than last year when stream-flow averages were only 30 to 60 percent of average.

Snowpacks also are up -- 75 to 110 percent of average -- compared with 50 to 60 percent of average reported for the majority of river basins on March 1 of 2001.

Abramovich said the latest forecasts are being watched closely by Idaho farmers, who must decide soon if they want to purchase crop insurance to cover losses if it turns out to be a low water year.

March 15 is the deadline for Idaho farmers to purchase insurance for spring crops.

Peter Seiler, chairman of the National Crop Insurance Service Pacific Northwest committee, said heīs anticipating that the numbers of farmers applying for insurance will be up this year because farmers canīt afford to cover losses if the water year does turn bad.

Idaho Power also is eyeing the water situation closely.

"While itīs below normal, we are still in a better position than we were last year," Idaho Power spokesman Jeff Beaman said.

Beaman said the company uses inflows to Brownlee Reservoir as a gauge on how the water year will turn out, and so far those flows are running about 60 percent of normal.

Despite lower flows, Beaman doesnīt expect a situation like last year when the company had to go to the expensive wholesale market.

If the current forecasts hold, Beaman said the company could use some of the resources from its new 90 megawatt power plant in Mountain Home to offset the lower water flows and not have to increase its reliance on the wholesale market.

Beaman said the company will be watching the next six weeks very carefully.

"It was good to see the snow today," Beaman said. "But it would be nice to see a month of this to make up for a pretty poor February."

Ken Dey
Water Supply Better than '01
Idaho Statesman, March 8, 2002

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