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Water year off to a good start in Eastern Oregon, SW Idaho

Basins in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon have above-average amounts of snowpack for this time of year, and area reservoirs have higher than normal amounts of carryover water from the 2017 season.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on November 27, 2017 10:16AM

A sugar beet field in Eastern Oregon in this file photo. A full water allotment for the first time in four years has made a big difference for farmers who depend on the Owyhee Reservoir to irrigate their crops. Basins in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon have above-average amounts of snowpack for this time of year, and area reservoirs have higher than normal amounts of carryover water from the 2017 season.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press

A sugar beet field in Eastern Oregon in this file photo. A full water allotment for the first time in four years has made a big difference for farmers who depend on the Owyhee Reservoir to irrigate their crops. Basins in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon have above-average amounts of snowpack for this time of year, and area reservoirs have higher than normal amounts of carryover water from the 2017 season.

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BOISE — Snowpack levels in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon basins are well above normal, a good sign for the thousands of farmers in the region that depend on those basins to provide the water they need for their crops.

The amount of water carried over in area reservoirs after the 2017 water year that will be available for irrigators in 2018 is also significantly higher than normal.

“We’re looking good so far. If it continues, we’re going to have a fairly good year” in 2018, said Tim Page, manager of the Boise Project Board of Control, which provides water to 167,000 acres and five irrigation districts in southwestern Idaho.

In the Boise River basin, snowpack levels were 160 percent of normal as of Nov. 21 and the Boise River system’s reservoirs had 250,000 acre-feet of carryover water, well above normal.

As of this week, there was enough water in the system to equal about 50 percent of the project’s total water right, up from the 36 percent that is typical for this time of year, Page said.

“Things can change quickly but so far it’s looking pretty good,” he said.

Snowpack in the Payette River basin is 207 percent of normal and it’s 188 percent of normal in the Weiser River basin and 191 percent of normal in th Owyhee River basin.

Ron Abramovich, a regional water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said some snow measuring sites have 20-30 percent of what their typical April 1 peak is.

“Snowpack is off to a good start,” he said.

The Owyhee Reservoir, which provides irrigation water to 118,000 acres in Eastern Oregon and part of Idaho, has 434,000 acre-feet of carryover water, which equals 61 percent of the reservoir’s capacity.

That’s up significantly from 200,000 acre-feet at this time last year and well above the typical 300,000 acre-feet for this time of year, said Owyhee Irrigation District Manager Jay Chamberlin.

Farmers who get their water from the Owyhee Reservoir suffered through several years of drought conditions and reduced water supplies until last year and 2018 is shaping up to be another good year, Chamberlin said.

The excellent start to the water year means the district may have to release water for flood control early next year, “but that’s a good problem to have,” he said. “I’ll take that kind of problem any day over what we had the past several years.”

The Payette River system’s reservoirs have about 450,000 acre-feet of carryover water, which is 71 percent of full capacity and well above the 325,000 acre-feet that could typically be expected this time of year, said watermaster Ron Shurtleff.

“We’re getting a great start and carryover is excellent,” he said. “The Payette River basin could weather a pretty modest winter and still come out fine” for 2018.



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