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Treasure Valley farmers face 30 percent cut in irrigation water


Capital Press

BOISE -- Many Treasure Valley farmers could face a 30 percent reduction in irrigation water this year and that looming shortage is affecting planting decisions.

"(The shortage) will have quite a bit of an impact," said Meridian, Idaho, farmer Drew Eggers, who grows several crops. "My guess is our canals will dry up earlier than normal."

Eggers may not plant a few fields of silage corn this year because of the possible shortage and he also plans to move water off his wheat fields early and switch it over to his mint fields because mint requires a lot more water.

The Boise Project Board of Control, which provides water to five irrigation districts in the valley, has set the annual allotment for its customers at 1 acre-foot of water this season compared with the typical 3 acre-feet.

BPBC provides irrigation water to about 165,000 acres in the valley and the bulk of it goes to agriculture.

A dry spring and small snowpack have caused water officials throughout the valley to warn irrigation customers this season could be tight. Compounding the situation, lower temperatures have kept the snow from melting fast enough, which has caused river levels to drop and water officials to tap into stored reservoir water much earlier than normal.

The right weather conditions could improve the water situation but right now it appears it's going to be a tight and possibly short irrigation season, said Tim Page, project manager for the BPBC.

"We need some good storms and we need it to warm up so we can get that high snow to melt," he said. "It looks like it's going to be a short season but it depends on how things go."

The Pioneer Irrigation District board decided this week to reduce water deliveries to its 5,800 patrons by 30 percent of normal. Unless weather conditions change significantly, the district could be forced to end deliveries of irrigation water in mid-August, almost two months earlier than normal.

Pioneer is drawing water from natural flow rights it holds in the Boise River, but the district could be forced to turn to reservoir storage much earlier than normal, said Pioneer Water Superintendent Mark Zirschky.

He said Pioneer will run the system as lean as possible and is asking water users to be as conservative as possible.

"But it's clear this is a low water year and we felt it was critical that we put in place a plan that will hopefully prove a compromise between water supply and demand," said Pioneer Board Chairman Alan Newbill.

Tony Weitz, who grows several crops south of Caldwell, said he will cut back watering some crops so he can have enough water for his mint, which takes about 4 acre-feet to grow.

"We have some spring wheat that we're going to abandon so we can save some water for mint," he said.


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