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Drought conditions turn a corner in Idaho this year, multi-year drought symptoms continue

Canal shot southern Idaho
Posted at 4:47 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 18:48:35-04

BOISE, Idaho — Drought alarm bells were ringing earlier this year after a dry winter, but now it’s a different situation in southern Idaho.

Even as we settle into another week of extreme heat, some concern has lifted for the irrigation season ahead.

"The additional moisture in the Weiser, Payette and Boise Basins has been great enough to end the drought in those basins," State Hydrologist David Hoekema told Idaho News 6.

After a cooler and wetter than normal springtime rainy season in Idaho's central mountains and northward, snowmelt was delayed by about one month. In addition to a delayed runoff season, irrigation demand cut back as rain gave farmers and ranchers the moisture they needed. Because of that, reservoirs were able to continue filling.

Hoekema said thanks to the natural moisture in rivers, water users have just recently started to utilize storage from the reservoirs.

"Last year storage use started on April 1st," he said.

That being said, much of the rest of southern Idaho remains in moderate drought, and a drought declaration announced earlier this year will remain in place.

"The drought declarations in Idaho have only one statutory purpose, which is to provide a basis for irrigators to apply for emergency transfers on water rights," Hoekema said, adding that the declaration will terminate at the end of the year.

Hoekema said irrigation season should be pretty normal as farmers and ranchers were already prepared for a low-water year, and we could even have some carryover in the Boise reservoirs into next year. That would be critical in the case of an additional low-snowpack winter season.

Despite the relief, southern Idaho is not quite out of drought due to a multi-year drought cycle that’s likely to continue next year. And the ongoing heatwave adds an additional risk of increased evaporation on fields and in bodies of water.