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Idaho Department of Water Resources highlights drought and water outlook

Posted at 3:01 PM, Oct 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 08:32:42-04

BOISE, Idaho — At the end of February, water users didn't have a reason to be concerned because the snowpack in Idaho was close to normal, but in the spring that all changed. Now Idaho's reservoirs have been depleted.

The state experienced an exceptional drought and the worst spring in terms of precipitation in almost 100 years as it just stopped snowing and raining from March until the end of July.

"It was an exceptional dry spell, one we haven’t seen since 1924," said David Hoekema of the Idaho Department of Water Resources. "If you look at all the years from 1895 to present statewide only 1924 had less springtime precipitation."

The record heat and limited water supply caused problems for Idaho farmers who produced 34 percent less wheat, 21 percent less Barley and Owyhee Produce saw a 40 percent reduction in onions, the numbers have not been released for potatoes.

This week the IDWR put together a presentation showing how the entire northwest experienced record drought and now Idaho needs a snowy winter to reverse some of these trends as forecasters predict the second La Nina winter in a row.

"We are entering into a La Nina year and a lot of people are excited about that, but actually I’m not at all," said Hoekema. "There is a trend that we’ve seen in the last 30 years on La Nina years that each successive La Nina year is dryer than the year before it."

The National Weather Service released its La Nina prediction through Christmas and from the Salmon River south they predict a normal fall, while both the IDWR and the National Weather Service expect northern Idaho to be just fine.

The drought depleted Idaho's reservoirs, forced irrigators to shut the water off early and it also had an impact on recreation, this winter a lot more people besides the skiers and snowboarders are hoping for snow.

"We can’t get much dryer than this and not have significant water shortage problems across the state," said Hoekema. "If we do get a good snowpack, I would add this don’t expect a dry spring, that dry spring so exceptional we probably won’t experience a dry spring like that again in our lifetime, at least I hope we won’t.”

The Snake River basin is 11 percent full, the Boise River basin sits at 24 percent the Owyhee is at 30 percent and the Payette River basin is at 48 percent which is historically low for the Payette.

The Big Wood, the Little Wood and the Big Lost River basins around Sun Valley experienced the worst of the drought, but the entire state was impacted by this exceptional drought.