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For the week of January 10 through January 16, 2001

Snowpack blues

Below average snow fall raises irrigation concerns

"We’re not alarmed yet. We’re hopeful. But anytime you’re coming into the new year below average, you’re worried."

Norm Semanko, executive director of Idaho Water Users Association

Express Staff Writer

Snowfall this winter has been considerably less than average throughout Idaho, prompting water managers to declare preliminary concern.

Fortunately, the winter season is only about a third over, leaving substantial time for storms to pelt Idaho.

"We’re not alarmed yet. We’re hopeful," said Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association, which represents water interests around the state. "But anytime you’re coming into the new year below average, you’re worried."

The Big and Little Wood river drainages are 71 percent of their average winter precipitation, and are only 58 percent of average of the typical water content held in the snowpack, according to the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

According to the Sawtooth National Forest’s Ketchum Ranger District in Ketchum, .6 inches of precipitation fell in November, a month that typically garners 1.7 inches. In December, 1.05 inches fell, and so far in January, zero inches have fallen. Both December and January typically receive about 2.3 inches annually.

Last year at this time, it was apparent the state’s reservoirs would fill up, based on water levels and snowpack, Semanko said.

"The carryover was low this year because of the hot and dry summer, and so far this winter, we haven’t seen the snowpack we’d hope to see," he said. "But we’ve still got a couple of months, and we’re hopeful that things will turn around.

"If we don’t see some storms here in January and February, we’ll become alarmed. Nobody can control Mother Nature."

Ironically, the snow supply in the southern desert drainages is greater than rainy northern Idaho when measured as a percent of average.

"The Panhandle snowpack is half of average. Because they typically receive more moisture than southern Idaho, it may be harder to make up the deficit," said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise.

For example, the amount of precipitation in the snowpack on Bear Mountain near Lake Pend Oreille currently is about 14 inches when the average for this time of year is 41 inches.

In comparison, the snowpack for desert river basins south of the Snake River last week were 95 percent of average. The normally arid Bear River Basin in southeastern Idaho is 87 percent of normal.

The West is under the influence of a weak La Nina weather pattern, Abramovich said. That means a band from southern Idaho to southern Colorado has received more moisture than areas north and south of that latitude.

The high pressure that has kept storms from reaching Idaho is weakening, he said.

The snowpack, along with a myriad of other Idaho water related topics, will be discussed at the Idaho Water Users Association’s annual convention, from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25 in Boise. Call 344-6690 for information.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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