Fast melt could threaten water supply


By ALYSON WILSON
Express Staff Writer

Surface water rights could shut off early this summer if the rapid spring melt-off continues.

"If this [warm weather] continues, we’ll have melt-out in two weeks and an early [water] shortage," said District Conservationist for the National Resource Conservation Service Gale Roberts.

Galena Summit has lost 3.8 inches of water since April 22, for example. Normally Galena would have lost only eight-tenths of an inch at this time, according to the National Resources Conservation Service.

A normal weather pattern would place the high-water date, the peak of the melt-off, in the first week of June, rather than in two weeks, Roberts said,

"That’s over four times the normal rate, all because of the weather," Roberts said.

Water from the snow pack feeds into the Big Wood River, which in turn feeds the reservoirs. The Big Wood River and Magic and Little Wood reservoirs are considered surface-water sources.

Local growers rely partially on access to surface water until the local water master locks the headgate to the water in a "first-in-time-first-in-right" order.

Those with newer water rights lose access to water before those with older rights.

Roberts said those holding rights originating after 1886 might need to seek supplemental water sources.

Most will switch to well water, pumped by costly electric-powered pumps, Roberts said.

"The issue here isn’t so much running out of water as it is possible [financial] costs to farmers," Roberts said.

Water in the snow pack in the mountains surrounding Wood River Valley accumulated at 79 percent of the 30-year average. Total precipitation is 91 percent of the normal level.

Last year’s extraordinarily high precipitation levels, however, could ease the potential for a water shortage this year, Roberts said.

This situation could rapidly reverse itself, Roberts said.

"If it rained, there’s just enough snow left that water would hold in the snow pack and slow the melt," Roberts said.

Data on water levels comes from automated systems at seven points north of Hailey, including Galena Summit and Chocolate Gulch, that measure water in the snow and rain, Roberts said.

Signals are relayed to Boise or Ogden, Utah.

The data is then sent to Portland, Ore., where it is put on an Internet site by 6 a.m. every morning.

Those who wish to check year-round snow, rain or water levels can do so by accessing the National Water and Climate Center at: www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov

 

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