By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- An already tight water year in southwestern Idaho is being exacerbated by extremely high temperatures and carryover supplies are expected to be exhausted at season's end.
After making it through a heat wave June 28-July 3 where temperatures topped 100 degrees every day and reached as high as 110, Treasure Valley farmers just entered another six-day stretch where the mercury is forecast to top 100 every day.
"It's just relentless," Greenleaf farmer Dave Dixon said of the heat. "It has put us in a really (difficult) situation."
Sparse snowpack coupled with an early melt resulted in the natural flow water that many irrigation districts are entitled to being exhausted quickly, forcing them to use reservoir water much earlier than normal.
The Boise Project Board of Control, which supplies water to five irrigation districts in the valley, reduced annual allotments to its customers from the typical 3-plus acre-feet per to 1.4 acre-feet.
"When you're looking at 1.4 acre-feet vs. the normal 3.75 acre-feet, it's tremendously difficult," said Dan Dixon, Dave Dixon's father. "We're definitely in a difficult situation."
Caldwell-based Pioneer Irrigation District reduced its water supply by 20 percent and the district's board of directors is focused on providing farmers enough water to harvest crops already in the ground, said Pioneer water superintendent Mark Zirschky.
But, he added, that strategy means the district will have exhausted most if not all of its storage water from reservoirs by the end of the irrigation season.
"It's crystal clear that we are going to be at the mercy of Mother Nature," Zirschky said. "We really need a good snowpack this coming winter or we will face an even more difficult water situation next year."
The Dixons, who grow peppermint, sugar beets, wheat, corn, and dry beans and peas for seed, are handling their reduced surface water supply by collecting and re-pumping runoff water and "running wells we haven't run in a long time," Dave Dixon said.
"All of our crops look good but it's because we're running wells and pumping runoff water back," he adds. "But all of those things are very costly. We're in a challenging year and you just do the best you can each day."
The Dixons have also switched some of the water off of their less valuable crops to use it for crops that use more water and are worth more.
Dave Dixon said he'll be happy just to get by this year but he's really concerned about next season.
"We will have very little water to carry over for next year," he said. "It's going to be so critical to have a good snowpack this winter or else next year is going to be desperate."