By JOHN O'CONNELL
Though it's been a dry spring throughout most of the state, Ken Andrus reports grass is abundant on mountain pastures surrounding his Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, ranch, and the valley is "unusually green."
A USDA precipitation report released May 28 confirms agricultural land near the small, southeast Idaho resort town has been an oasis amid an otherwise arid growing region this spring.
Of 24 cities throughout the state tracked in the report, only Lava and Porthill, located in northern Idaho, received above-normal precipitation from March 1 through May 26. During that period, Lava received 4.11 inches, or 0.67 inches above normal, according to USDA. Porthill's 5.36 inches was 1.07 inches above normal.
Elsewhere in Bannock County, in which Lava is located, Fort Hall's 1.65 inches of precipitation was 1.79 inches below normal for the period. Aberdeen, located 76 miles from Lava in prime Bingham County potato and sugar beet country, received just 1.11 inches of rain, 1.48 inches below normal.
Precipitation in Twin Falls, at 1.62 inches, was 1.26 inches below normal. Boise, which received 1.52 inches of moisture, was 1.81 inches behind normal for the period. In Coeur D' Alene, growers received 4.62 inches of moisture, 1.09 inches below normal.
"April was kind of cold and windy. After that, we have had some timely rains, almost perfect," said Andrus, a Republican who heads the Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee. "We've had more moisture than normal for a spring, but the timing of the rains have been so good."
Kevin Koester, who operates Fish Creek Farms in Lava, said his crops have all emerged and appear healthy.
"Right now optimism is pretty good. After last year, anything to be optimistic about with moisture is a welcome change," Koester said.
Nonetheless, Koester is skeptical that the favorable precipitation totals for Lava are accurate and emphasized water challenges remain for growers and ranchers. USDA officials said they contract with a private service to provide the totals, based on National Weather Service measuring sites throughout the state.
"Springs on range are about 50 percent of where they need to be, and I'm hearing that same report around the countryside," Koester said. "Everybody is nervous already."
Throughout most of Idaho, May has brought little relief from a dry start to the year. Monthly moisture in the southern Bruneau, Raft, Goose and Salmon Falls basins was just 20-30 percent of normal through May 28. Through that date, the Upper Snake Basin above American Falls Reservoir has received 61 percent of normal monthly precipitation. For the water year, Upper Snake precipitation dropped 4 percent in May to 86 percent of normal.
Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Jeff Anderson said the one exception to below-normal May precipitation has been the Little Lost River Basin, which has received near-normal rainfall.
"Last April was better than February and March. It looks like May has dropped down again," Anderson said. "It keeps getting drier and drier it seems."