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Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday approved an emergency drought declaration for 34 of Idaho’s 44 counties. Gem County is among those included.

The governor signed off on the emergency drought declaration issued on Thursday by Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman. Ten counties asked for the declaration.

The emergency declaration allows temporary water rights changes for the rest of the year. It could also help with federal drought assistance. Under the drought emergency, the Water Resources Department is authorized to consider applications for the temporary changes.

The counties in the drought declaration cover the lower two-thirds of the state. Officials said all Idaho counties south of the Salmon River are experiencing below-normal snowpack conditions.

Additionally, streamflow forecasts in that area are 50% to 78% below average. Officials also said many reservoirs are well below capacity, increasing the chances they won’t fill.

The U.S. Drought Monitor Map published last week classified the 34 counties as being in moderate to severe drought, with most counties in severe drought.

Gem County is squarely in the moderate drought range while Washington and Adams counties to the west and northwest are designated primarily as having severe drought conditions.

The cooler and wetter than normal weather the past couple of weeks, expected to continue for at least a couple more, is providing some optimism for a near normal irrigation water season in the Payette River drainage. Snow pack, particularly above McCall, is not melting early and will be counted on to replenish reservoirs in the coming months.

Cascade Reservoir, the largest of the reservoirs on the Payette drainage is below capacity currently but slowly edging toward normal. The 646,460 acre feet storage capacity is 70 percent full. Deadwood Reservoir, which provides up to 153,992 acre feet of storage capacity, is 50 percent full.

Neither of the reservoirs normally reach capacity until early June when high-mountain runoff is at a peak. Barring a quick warm up or torrential rains, downstream flooding which often occurs in May and June is unlikely this year.

By contrast, the Boise River storage reservoirs are lagging a bit. While Arrowrock is nearly 86 percent full, Anderson Ranch which is the largest capacity reservoir on the Boise at 413,100 acre feet, is only 46 percent full.

Lucky Peak is currently at 59 percent and recreationists have already been warned that some of the boating docks and accesses on that reservoir may not be accessible this year.

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