Water crunch hits Wood River Valley
"When everybodys watering at the same time, theyre
draining our reservoirs. Fire protection is being compromised."
Jack Brown, Sun Valley Sewer and Water District general
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
In 23 years as general manager of the Sun Valley Sewer and Water District,
Jack Brown said hes not seen a water shortage as severe as this summers.
"Were having trouble keeping up with production during peak
demands," he said in an interview yesterday morning. "When everybodys
watering at the same time, theyre draining our reservoirs. Fire protection is being
Brown said hes 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 dont know its that bad, but its almost that
The sewer and water district serves only the city of Sun Valley, but Brown
and Sun Valley arent 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.
"Im getting more and more calls each week concerning water
pressure," he said. "Its not a lack of water; its just a demand on
Even though the problem may be an inconvenience that results in brown
spots on peoples lawns, and toilets that are slow to refill, Hyde said hes not
worried about the citys water dwindling.
"We have plenty of water," he said.
The Wood River Valleys municipalities are served by a network of
wells and reservoirseach 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, Haileys 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.
"Everybodys 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 valleys municipalities have ever imposed further water
Though this springs and summers rainfall has been drastically
low in comparison with previous years, the brunt of the water shortage is likely caused
because the winters snowpack melted off faster than in typical years, according to
water engineer Charles G. Brockway, co-owner of Brockway Engineering in Twin Falls.
"Its 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 isnt
enough to cause a severe drought," he continued. "It came off pretty quickly in
the early season, and that means there wasnt 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 watersheds 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, its 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 cant 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. Its the use of the water,"
he said. "Were on the edge of the desert."