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Farmers concerned about heat's impact on tight water supply


Capital Press

BOISE -- In addition to worrying about how a recent heat wave affected their crops, many farmers in southwest Idaho are also concerned about how it impacted an already tight water supply.

Jim Barbour, superintendent of University of Idaho's Parma research station, said he didn't receive any calls from farmers about damaged crops during the heat wave.

But he did hear concern about how much water was used to get the crops through the unrelenting heat, which topped 100 for six straight days and toppled several daily record highs from Boise in southwest Idaho to Ontario in eastern Oregon.

"The main thing I heard was concern about water use," he said. "It increased water use and farmers are already short on water. Everybody is already worried that the water is not going to last through the season."

While surface water supplies in the region typically last until mid-October, some irrigation districts are just hoping to keep the water flowing until the first part of September this year.

"That's what I'm concerned about," said Meridian farmer Richard Durant. "If we make it to the first of September, I think most crops are going to be OK. But if we only make it to the middle or end of August, it's going to be really devastating."'

Boise Project Board of Control officials said that while the heat didn't help matters, they still think the water will keep flowing to farmers for another two months.

"It's still looking like we're going to make it through the first of September," said Tim Page, project manager for the BPBC, which supplies water for five irrigation districts in the valley and already cut back the annual water allotment for its customers from the normal 3 acre-feet to 1.4 acre-feet.

Page said landowners have helped themselves by being extra careful how much water they use this year.

"(They) have really been conservative this year and very careful about how much water they use and I think that's helped them out," he said.

The early season heat wave "definitely made things a little worse" but Pioneer Irrigation District officials also still hope to keep water flowing until the first part of September, said manager Mark Zirschky.

Farmers who get their water from the Payette River system are faring much better.

"We're not doing too bad at all. The Payette basin is doing better than most of the surrounding basins," said watermaster Ron Shurtleff. "We started off with an alarmingly short year but things improved (and) we're not too far away from normal at this time."


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