By JOHN O'CONNELL
A dry spell covering Idaho's Snake River Plain that began in January has continued into July, and the extended forecast calls for another three months of unseasonably hot and dry weather, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Northern Idaho was the exception, receiving 150 percent of normal June precipitation. Elsewhere in the state, the Boise River system received 70 percent of normal June moisture, the Wood and Lost rivers were at 45 percent of normal, the Upper Snake River system was listed at a quarter of normal moisture and the Bear River system's moisture was a paltry 7 percent of normal.
With the exception of April, which brought near-average moisture to the Upper Snake River area, monthly precipitation has been below normal for the first half of 2013.
The cumulative effect, explained NRCS water supply specialist Ron Abramovich, is that the eight reservoirs in the Upper Snake system are now at 60 of combined capacity and 74 percent of normal.
Officials are banking on heavy snowpack this winter to refill empty reservoirs. Abramovich explained forecasters study the South Pacific from July through November to make winter snowpack predictions, and they've already begun to detect a familiar pattern.
"Similar types of conditions are setting up this year as last year, which are neutral," Abramovich said.
Lyle Swank, water master for Water District 1, which covers the Upper Snake system, said certain small canal companies drawing from the Palisades and Island Park reservoirs, which have junior rights, have already been cut off this season or will be soon. Some irrigators who use natural flows from the Teton River were also recently cut off, he said.
Swank said many requests for water from the district's rental pool were denied. He anticipates several irrigators will have to forgo a third cutting of hay, or delay watering stubble into the fall.
"We haven't' seen a year quite this bad since 2000 and 2002," Swank said.
According to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the state has approved drought emergency declarations for 10 Idaho counties: Lincoln, Fremont, Butte, Blaine, Clark, Custer, Teton, Jefferson, Bingham and Gem. The declarations are mainly intended to expedite temporary water rights transfers.