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Irrigation companies hope to make it through season


By JOHN O'CONNELL



Capital Press



Five of the seven irrigation companies comprising Idaho's Surface Water Coalition anticipate they'll make it through this extremely dry season without having to reduce water deliveries, according to coalition officials.



Travis Thompson, an attorney representing the coalition, believes water awarded July 16 by the District 1 rental pool should help the A&B, Milner, Minidoka, Burley and Northside irrigation districts maintain business as usual.



The rental pool allocated 86,000 acre-feet of water to the various space holders granted first priority because of storage impacts resulting from the reservoir system's failure to fill completely to start the season. Thompson said the five irrigation companies managed to rent back 70 percent of their foregone water.



Though the companies would prefer to carry more water over into next season, Thompson said extreme heat and dryness have forced them to continue usual water deliveries. Thompson said circumstances may still change delivery plans.



The other two coalition members -- American Falls Reservoir District No. 2, based in Shoshone, and Twin Falls Canal Co. -- didn't receive any rental water and had already cut their deliveries by 20 percent prior to the meeting. Thompson said Twin Falls was denied its request due to a low priority, and American Falls suffered no storage impact and couldn't apply.



"We are conserving all we can and hope to make it through the season," said Brian Olmstead, Twin Falls Canal Co. manager, who cut deliveries in mid-June. "With reach gains crashing the past week, it's going to be tight, even more so if these extreme temperatures continue."



Lynn Harmon, who manages American Falls Reservoir District No. 2, made his cutback on July 15.



"Historically, we always counted on springs and reach gains to fill American Falls Reservoir, but that did not happen this year. Now we have to self-mitigate and count on the snowpack to make up the difference," Harmon said.



Thompson said irrigators are now at peak demand, using about 30,000 acre-feet of water per day combined in the Upper Snake River Basin.



"Hopefully, in the next two or three weeks we should be over the hump," Thompson said.



If the companies stick to their plans to maintain normal water deliveries, the Bureau of Reclamation predicts the system's two major reservoirs, American Falls and Palisades, will end the irrigation season at just 5 percent of capacity, and Jackson Lake Reservoir would be drained below 20 percent of capacity.



Burley Irrigation District Manager Randy Bingham acknowledged it's a gamble to exhaust storage this season and bank on heavy winter snow.



"We are going to take care of this year's crop ... but it will be extremely tight next year if we don't get an abundant and above-normal snowpack," Bingham said.



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