Southwest Idaho water outlook improves

The water supply outlook in much of southwestern Idaho has improved significantly since January, thanks to a series of February storms. Precipitation in the Boise basin was twice its normal level last month.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on March 10, 2014 10:01AM

BOISE — A series of February storms has changed the water supply outlook for much of southwestern Idaho dramatically.

“Things have vastly improved,” said Alan Newbill, a farmer and chairman of the Pioneer Irrigation District board of directors. “In the Boise basin, we’re looking at about a normal water year.”

Two straight years of below-average precipitation had depleted area reservoirs and irrigators were depending on decent snowpack levels to get them through 2014.

Average snowpack in the basin was a little over 50 percent in January but it’s now over 90 percent.

“We were kind of in dire straits in January,” Newbill said. “It was really bad and we were very worried about it.”

Many irrigation districts in the area stopped delivering water in early September last year, about a month earlier than normal, and they were only able to make it that far because they significantly reduced allotments.

Without a near-normal snowpack year, area growers faced the possibility of a serious water shortage in 2014.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s March water supply outlook report, precipitation in the Boise basin was twice its normal level in February.

According to the report, “the Boise water supply shortages that once appeared near certain are much less likely than one month ago … Water supply concerns have not been totally erased by February’s rain and snow, but conditions look more hopeful this month.”

NRCS water supply specialist Ron Abramovich said the basin’s water outlook has improved immensely from January and water users are now looking at moderately adequate supplies.

“But … we need one more storm to ensure adequate supplies,” he said.

The Boise Project Board of Control, which provides water to five irrigation districts, has fielded calls from several farmers who want to know how much water they’ll be getting this year, said project manager Tim Page.

It’s too early to give them a definitive answer, he said.

“Things are definitely getting better but we’re still not out of the woods yet,” he said. “It’s still a little early in the game to be able to tell exactly where we’ll end up.”

Tony Weitz, who grows 1,000 acres of peppermint, field corn, wheat, alfalfa seed and beans near Caldwell, said the situation was so dire heading into February that area farmers were worried their irrigation water might be shut off as early as July.

Like many other farmers in the area, Weitz made considerable cropping changes last year because of a tight water supply, including abandoning most of his spring wheat crop and diverting the water to high-value, high-water crops such as mint.

Until recently, he was preparing for a repeat of 2013 and possibly worse.

“It’s looking a lot better than it was 30 days ago,” he said. “It’s not going to be a full allotment (but I think) we’ll get through the season reasonably well.”


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