© 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune
Despite a dry spell at the beginning of this year, late 2010 set the pace for water levels to be good by spring, according to Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the National Resource Conservation Service.
One of the most important reasons Idahoans have to hope for plentiful snowmelt comes every month in the form of their electric bills. Idaho Power gets most of its electricity from lower-cost hydroelectric generation at its Snake River dams, and in dry years the utility has to buy more expensive power on the open market.
How water levels stand now
In basins in the Treasure Valley area, snow water content is in the 80 percent to 90 percent range. Around the state the snow water content ranges from 78 percent in central Idaho basins to 122 percent in southeast Idaho.
Ron Abramovich said local levels are not bad, given about one third of the winter accumulation is likely yet to come and more precipitation could be on the way.
If no more precipitation comes, the basins in the Treasure Valley area would end up at 65 percent, which is not enough to satisfy local water needs.
With each day of blue sky, the percentages will drop 1 to 2 percent. Officials said the valley still needs more storms for irrigators to maintain reservoir storage levels for the summer, for hydro power production, for fish and wildlife and other water uses.
Rivers for rafters and kayakers
• Local rivers used for whitewater recreation should have adequate levels for summer sports, especially since many have flows regulated by dam release. The Payette River, north of the Treasure Valley, usually has a good runoff season in the spring, with steady flows released from Cascade Lake and Deadwood Reservoir.
• Denny Mooney, manager of Alpenglow Mountainsport, said local rivers are at good levels right now and with more snow predicted, it could increase even more.
“Right now it’s looking like it will be a good water season,” he said. “We’re getting excited.”
Irrigation for crops
• If water levels end the winter accumulation period at about 80 percent, that is adequate for irrigation, although more is always helpful.
• Below 80 percent could pose a problem for farmers but with more snowstorms on the way and spring rains expected, experts hope the needed level will be reached.
• Drew Eggers grows sugar beets and mint on his farm north of Interstate 84 between Nampa and Meridian. He said the carryover from last year helped to alleviate
concerns over water supply.
“We did have the last month and half without snow in the mountains so that is a concern,” he said. “With a below-normal snowpack and the high amount of carryover I believe we should be OK. The only other concern is, if we have a less-than-normal snowpack, then it’s more critical how that snow comes off.”
• If the snow melts slow throughout the spring and keeps stream levels consistent, that is more beneficial for farmers than if it melts fast and spills out of reservoirs. A cool spring is best for irrigators.
Lakes for boaters
• At this point it appears local lakes used for recreation should have good levels for summer boaters. For reservoirs such as Lucky Peak, managers must watch the future forecasts to determine when to release water. “They should fill like they normally do,” Ron Abramovich said. “We’ll see if additional releases are made based on the precipitation we get the rest of this winter into spring.”
• Reservoirs in the Boise and Payette basins are at 64 percent capacity, above average levels for this time of year. If they are too full, flooding can occur with heavy spring rains. “Their being average for today is good but you don’t want to be full,” Abramovich said. “Typically you try to fill them after the peak snowmelt runoff has occurred.”
• Justin Harrison, service and store manager with Idaho Water Sports, said this year looks to be good for boaters.
“Our business completely relies on those water levels. We can sustain lake levels just like we always do and have a great summer,” he said. “Lake Lowell always will be filled up because of the irrigation, we don’t worry so much about it.”