Outlook improves for some southeast Idaho irrigators
By JOHN O'CONNELL
ABERDEEN, Idaho -- Despite continued dry weather and the arrival of a prolonged heatwave, the irrigation outlook has improved significantly during the past month for southeast Idaho growers served by the Aberdeen-Springfield Canal Co.
Many other Idaho irrigators, including members of the Big Wood Canal Co., have already been cut off or will be soon.
Aberdeen-Springfield general manager Steve Howser said about three weeks of above-normal temperatures have likely cost him a day or two of irrigation due to evaporation from the canal system.
However, the heat also proved to be timely, providing a surge of snowmelt just as the Snake River's volume was about to dip below the threshold for shutting off Aberdeen-Springfield's natural flow right.
"When the temperatures came up, the very last of the snow came off very quickly. I was predicting we would be out on June 14. We made it to June 23," Howser said.
Because water demand diminishes closer to harvest, Howser expects the prolonged natural flow will buy him 12 extra days in September.
Furthermore, the Water District 1 rental pool approved the canal company, which serves Bingham and Power county growers at the heart of potato country, for 17,285 acre feet of supplemental water, compared with 4,800 acre feet Howser expected to get.
Just a month ago, Howser's supply graphs showed water would run out by Sept. 10. Now, he believes he can stretch deliveries through Sept. 25. He emphasized careful rationing will still be needed to make it through the season. Howser has implemented a rotation requiring growers to shut off irrigation for at least a day once every six days, and he's allocating growers 53 percent of the water they would normally get if the reservoirs were full.
He's identified a dozen wells where growers could pump groundwater into the canal to benefit the overall system, or for them to access from a canal head gate no more than a quarter mile downstream. He's requested that the state declare a drought emergency to facilitate those temporary water rights transfers.
American Falls grower Klaren Koompin believes extending the irrigation season in September will make a big difference for growers with potatoes, sugar beets and hay.
"On a normal September, that's some of our finest growing. The last three years, September has made the Burbank crop," Koompin said. "To not have any water at that time would be pretty devastating."
Not all canal companies were as fortunate. Lynn Harmon, general manager of Big Wood Canal Co., based in Shoshone, Idaho, had no water to divert from Magic Reservoir by June 28.
"That effectively put 36,000 acres out of irrigation water for the balance of the 2013 season," Harmon said. "Most of those people will get one cutting of hay, maybe a light second cutting. Some of the grain won't make it. They'll probably have to cut it for hay. We needed another 10 days of water, and we probably would have made it."
Harmon said the company had to release 40,000 acre feet of carryover water to make repairs to a control gate, shaving nearly a month from the irrigation season.
"It's going to be a big economic hit for them. It can conceivably take some people out of business," Harmon said.
The Big Wood's sister company, American Falls Reservoir District No. 2, plans to reduce delivery volumes by 20 percent effective July 15, Harmon said.