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Idaho’s Water Forecast is Mixed

by Ken Dey
Idaho Statesman, April 6, 2002

Situation looks good except in southeast Idaho

It´s a Goldilocks and the Three Bears scenario for Idaho´s upcoming water year — too much, not enough and just about right.

North Idaho is buried in snow, and water experts are hoping the warm early-spring weather continues so melting is gradual and floods are avoided.

But central and southeast Idaho water users are bracing for another year of low water and irrigation shortages.

And here in southwest Idaho, it´s shaping up to be a nearly normal water year.

That promises excellent river rafting conditions and ample water for farmers from Mountain Home to the Oregon border.

Ron Abramovich, a water supply specialist with the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service in Boise, released on Friday his final water forecast for the upcoming season. He said the hardest-hit part of the state remains the southeast corner, where snowpack is only 70 to 80 percent of average.

In contrast, North Idaho snowpacks are 120 to 130 percent of average. In the Boise basin, snowpack is about 98 percent of average.

“It´s looking good for North Idaho,” Abramovich said. “If only they could share some of that snow with southern Idaho.”

Some central parts of Idaho, including the southside Snake River basins, have also experienced lower-than-hoped-for snow levels.

The drop in these basins has Idaho Power predicting another below-normal year for hydropower, which depends on Snake River water behind the company´s Hell´s Canyon dam complex.

Some estimates say the company´s hydropower production could be off by as much as 30 percent, but Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said it´s too soon to make a firm estimate.

Despite not being at full capacity, the company isn´t concerned it will get into a situation like last year, when they had to buy expensive wholesale power to offset the loss of hydropower.

“It´s certainly better than last year,” Lopez said.

Not only have wholesale prices gone down, but the company has a new 90-megawatt power plant in Mountain Home on-line and is no longer supplying power to one of its largest customers, Astaris LLC, which shut down its phosphate processing plant in Pocatello last year.

Both the extra power generated at Mountain Home and the reduced demand from the Astaris shutdown could make up for losses in hydropower production, Lopez said.

In southwest Idaho, most of the major reservoirs should fill, including Lucky Peak and Arrowrock, according to Rick Wells, water operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The only exception is the Anderson Ranch Reservoir, which will be about 90 percent full after being nearly drained last year.

Wells said the Boise basin should enjoy an adequate water supply for the year.

“Irrigators and recreationists should have a full season,” he said.

Abramovich said river runners should see good conditions in the Payette and Salmon rivers — and outstanding conditions in the middle fork of the Salmon, where snowpack is twice the level it was last year.

The river running season on the Salmon should run through July and possibly through August, Abramovich said. Last year, the season was over by July 31.

Abramovich cautioned that the drought in Idaho can´t be considered officially over.

“I keep saying over and over again, it took us several years to get into a drought and it will take several years to get out of it,” he said.

Ken Dey
Idaho’s Water Forecast is Mixed
Idaho Statesman, April 6, 2002

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