By SEAN ELLIS
The dim outlook for the irrigation supply in southwest Idaho this season has brightened somewhat. But many farmers in the region will still have to get by on a lot less and the tight situation has already altered many planting decisions.
The Boise Project Board of Control, which supplies water to five irrigation districts in Idaho's Treasure Valley, notified its customers earlier this season that they would receive one foot of water per acre instead of the normal three.
But BPBC increased the allotment by .4 of a foot in early June and its customers can now expect to receive 1.4 feet per acre.
Some warm weather in May caused high snowpack to melt, which picked up river flows enough for the district to run off river rights instead of storage, said BPBC Project Manager Tim Page.
"That helped us a lot," he said.
But while water deliveries continue into the middle part of October during a good season for BPBC, project officials hope to make it to the first part of September this year, Page said.
Pioneer Irrigation District reduced water deliveries to its patrons by 30 percent this year and warned customers water deliveries could stop by mid-August, two months earlier than normal.
But the improving situation means water deliveries now should make it to mid-September, said Pioneer Water Superintendent Mark Zirschky.
Natural flow carried the district longer than Pioneer officials had originally anticipated, Zirschky said.
"The situation is better than what we originally thought," he said. "It has bought us some time. How much we don't know yet."
While the water picture is better than it looked a month ago, it's still not good, Zirschky added.
"We're right on the edge of starting to dip into storage, which is about three weeks early for Pioneer," he said. "For Pioneer, the situation has gotten better to some degree ... but it is something we are still looking at daily."
The dire irrigation outlook caused many farmers to alter their planting decisions and even though the situation has improved somewhat, crops have already been planted and it's too late to go back.
Tony Weitz, who grows crops such as mint, field corn, wheat, alfalfa seed and beans south of Caldwell and gets his water from BPBC, said he made considerable changes because of the tight water supply.
That included abandoning most of his spring wheat so he could use the water on high-value, high-water crops such as mint.
"You only have so much water and you have to make do," said. "It takes about 4 acre-feet to get a crop of mint. Starting at 1 acre-foot, there was no way we could have the water we needed to grow mint...."