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For the week of July 26 through August 1, 2000

Water crunch hits Wood River Valley

"When everybody’s watering at the same time, they’re draining our reservoirs. Fire protection is being compromised."

Jack Brown, Sun Valley Sewer and Water District general manager

Express Staff Writer

In 23 years as general manager of the Sun Valley Sewer and Water District, Jack Brown said he’s not seen a water shortage as severe as this summer’s.

"We’re having trouble keeping up with production during peak demands," he said in an interview yesterday morning. "When everybody’s watering at the same time, they’re draining our reservoirs. Fire protection is being compromised."

Brown said he’s received numerous complaints from Elkhorn residents trying to take showers in early morning hours.

"There have been more phone calls than I can return," he said.

When asked if showers are just sputtering mist or leaking droplets, Brown responded: "I don’t know it’s that bad, but it’s almost that bad."

The sewer and water district serves only the city of Sun Valley, but Brown and Sun Valley aren’t alone this dry summer.

In a Thursday telephone interview, Hailey city water and wastewater superintendent Ray Hyde said about half a dozen Hailey residents called to complain about low water pressure last week.

"I’m getting more and more calls each week concerning water pressure," he said. "It’s not a lack of water; it’s just a demand on the system."

Even though the problem may be an inconvenience that results in brown spots on people’s lawns, and toilets that are slow to refill, Hyde said he’s not worried about the city’s water dwindling.

"We have plenty of water," he said.

The Wood River Valley’s municipalities are served by a network of wells and reservoirs—each managed separately.

Sun Valley has seven reservoirs served by nine wells.

Ketchum has three one-million gallon storage tanks served by six wells.

Hailey is served by one one-million gallon storage tank.

Bellevue also has one one-million gallon storage tank, primarily filled from nearby Seamans Creek, and also has two backup wells.

According to water official Hyde, Hailey’s low pressure problems are caused because the one tank is not large enough to meet current high demand and a growing population. Increased lawn irrigation during summer months depletes the stored water, causing the reduction in water, he said.

Brown concurred

"Everybody’s watering at the same time," he said.

To try to address the limited availability of water in the summer months, Hyde and Hailey city engineer Tom Hellen told the Hailey City Council Monday night that the city should begin negotiations with Corollo Engineers on a contract to provide preliminary plans for a new one- to two-million-gallon city water storage tank and a metered water system.

Corollo Engineers is one of six firms from which the city has received bids for the work.

Hailey and Ketchum already limit landscape irrigation to nighttime hours, and Bellevue and Sun Valley have implemented "even/odd" alternating day watering schedules, which are set by residents’ addresses.

None of the valley’s municipalities have ever imposed further water restrictions.

Though this spring’s and summer’s rainfall has been drastically low in comparison with previous years, the brunt of the water shortage is likely caused because the winter’s snowpack melted off faster than in typical years, according to water engineer Charles G. Brockway, co-owner of Brockway Engineering in Twin Falls.

"It’s a drought year, but as of now it may not be quite as bad as 1992, which, for the Wood River drainage, is the driest year on record," he said in an interview last week.

"The snowpack was a little below average, but that alone isn’t enough to cause a severe drought," he continued. "It came off pretty quickly in the early season, and that means there wasn’t much to come off later."

Brockway pointed to snowpack figures compiled by the U.S. Geologic Survey as evidence for his assertion.

In March, the Wood River Valley watershed’s snowpack was 92 percent of average. In April, that number fell to 85 percent of average, and in March it fell even further to 64 percent of average.

"So, you can see, it’s coming off too fast," he said. "In June it was 34 percent of average."

According to Dawn Harmon, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pocatello, a ridge of high pressure has been sitting over northern Utah and southern Idaho for most of the summer.

"Disturbances and moisture can’t move through that type of system," she said.

Harmon said the high pressure system weakened last week, enabling a few thunderstorms to infiltrate southern Idaho, but high pressure is expected to return.

The long-range forecast for July and August, Harmon said, is for more of the same dry weather of the past month.

As for providing water to an expanding population and increasing amounts of landscaping, Sun Valley water official Brown favors conservation strategies.

"More water is not the answer. It’s the use of the water," he said. "We’re on the edge of the desert."


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