After dry season, water officials predict ‘difficult’ year for reservoir system |

Water experts in Idaho are predicting severe water shortages in several parts of the state, including eastern Idaho, after an unusually dry winter.

“It looks like we’re going to have a very tough year right now,” said Tony Olenichak, first water director for the Eastern Office of the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

The Upper Snake Reservoir System is at its seventh-lowest water level in the past 46 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Snow content in the region is about 73 to 78 percent of what it is this time of year, Olenichak said. Based on current precipitation forecasts, the reservoir will not be filled this year unless the region experiences “unusual” rainfall, he said.

Water officials reported similar findings in other parts of the state at a March 10 meeting of the Idaho Water Resources Board. After Jan. 9, Idaho experienced a dry winter that flattened snow in several watersheds, including those in Snake River Plain, the Great Wood Basin and the Boise Basin, David Hoekema said at the conference. Hoekema is a hydrologist with the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

On Friday, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 82 percent of Idaho was experiencing moderate drought, and 44 percent of the state was in severe drought, including the Island Park Reservoir. Drought conditions can increase fire risk, reduce crop yields, lower river levels and reduce hydroelectric power, according to the Drought Monitor.

“There is a possibility of production cuts this year,” Olenichak said. “That’s for sure, farmers will have less money in their pockets.”

Olenichak said farmers will be under pressure to get through the year as the canal company informs them that they may receive less water allocations this year due to less water storage in the reservoir.

A wet spring could turn things around, as Olenichak has seen in previous years, he said. NOAA forecasts wetter and cooler-than-average weather at this time of early spring, but precipitation is more likely to hit the mountains of northern Idaho and the Midwest.

Southern Idaho and the upper Snake River may not be able to make up for a dry winter, Link Crawford, a service hydrologist with the Pocatello National Weather Service office, said at the March 10 meeting.

“If the precipitation in the next few months is below average, there will be a real tax on reservoir storage this year, and by the end of the year we could see the reservoirs almost empty,” Olenichak said.

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