Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valley snowpack dips below average

Water supplies still expected to be adequate

Express Staff Writer

Snow-covered Griffin Butte towers over the Sun Valley Lodge Tuesday morning. Though the Big Wood River basin snowpack is below average, itís only slightly below average and is above last yearís figure. Photo by Willy Cook

    It will come as no surprise to those who have driven through the valley in the past week that the Idaho Department of Water Resources says the Big Wood River basin snowpack is below average for February.
    However, the Natural Resources Conservation Services states that water supplies are expected to be OK in the Big Wood and Big Lost river basins for now—depending on what spring snow and rain totals are like.
    A mountain snow-water equivalent map released on Monday from the Department of Water Resources shows that the Big Wood River basin is at 95 percent of average; the Little Wood and Big Lost basins are faring slightly better, at 109 percent and 120 percent, respectively.
    This snowpack is better than last year, when the first week of February showed a snowpack at 81 percent of average. However, it is far below January snowpack numbers that showed 130 percent of average in the Big Wood basin, 144 percent in the Little Wood basin and 160 percent in the Big Lost basin.
    The drop, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service report, is due to little snowfall in January. Precipitation for January in the Big Wood, Little Wood and Lost River basins was half of average, the report states, and at 70 percent of normal in the Little Lost basin. The report cites “excellent precipitation” in November and December, however, bringing water year precipitation at above average in much of the region.
    However, most of the snow is higher in elevation than usual. The Camas Creek and Fairfield areas have 46 and 60 percent of normal snowfall for the year, respectively, but the report states there’s plenty of snow across the state to be found above 6,500 feet.
    “Shallow snowpacks below 6,500 feet still exist,” the report states. “Winter recreationists just need to climb a little higher to find deeper snowpacks with better coverage. Don’t put those skis away too soon.”
    The report does predict an earlier “melt out,” meaning snow will be gone from lower elevations earlier than normal this year. While that might be disappointing for skiers, whitewater rafters and other river users can expect to see “promising” river conditions this year, at 80 to 120 percent of average in south and central Idaho.
    The Big Wood River basin was left out of a small area of precipitation that hit the Salmon Falls and Bruneau basins on the Nevada border in January. Those areas saw 115 percent of average precipitation for the month, though the overall snowpack there is still slightly below average for the year.
    According to the report, Magic Reservoir is 12 percent full, which is only 33 percent of average for this time of year, due to a water release in November to allow repairs at the dam.
    The report states that water supply forecasts will depend on February precipitation, since January was only one below-average-precipitation month following two good months.
    “All eyes will be focused on February, to see if more storms enter the state or if February precipitation is a bust,” the report says. “Water users should watch the weather closely and re-examine their water supply decisions as needed.”

Kate Wutz:

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