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Wet Winter Won’t Entirely
Make Up for Drought Years

by Staff
Idaho Statesman, January 11, 2004

LEWISTON -- Summer streamflows in the Panhandle and Salmon River should be average following heavy snowstorms in the past couple weeks, the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service predicts.

But, even with the frequent storms, the creeks in some southern Idaho basins will likely not be up to par.

The three to four years of drought in the state have left reservoirs, springs, wetlands and water tables low and soils dry, said Ron Abramovich, snow supply specialist for the agency.

The water year between October and April is at midpoint.

Storms during December kept the Clearwater and Panhandle basins on track for an average winter, and they have helped the southern tier.

The snowpack in the Clearwater Basin is at about 109 percent of normal and the Panhandle is at average. The Salmon drainage is 106 percent, up from 70 percent early last month.

The storm patterns changed in late December, Abramovich said. They are now coming across central and southern Idaho at a greater frequency.

Other basins in the southern part of the state have made similar leaps in snowpacks.

The Payette and Boise drainages are in the 120 percent range. The desert basins have soared, with the Owyhee River snowpack 151 percent of average. The all-important snow for the upper Snake River reservoirs is 113 percent.

The drought has left the reservoirs low and soils dry. Abramovich said when snow melts this spring, much of the water will go to recharging the ground and not as much will make it all the way down rivers.

The streamflow forecast at Idaho Power Co.´s Hells Canyon hydroelectric dams calls for just 68 percent of average.

Low-water years mean the utility must resort to expensive coal-fired power plants and regional energy purchases to get by.

The storms are also important to juvenile salmon and steelhead that use spring and summer flows to reach the ocean.

“Sometimes, you need two good water years in a row to saturate the system,” Abramovich said. “The past two weeks, we have been on the wet track, so let´s hope it continues most of the rest of the winter.”

Wet Winter Won’t Entirely Make Up for Drought Years
Idaho Statesman, January 11, 2004

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