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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 7 - 13, 2003


Wet April a boon
to farmers

Big Wood snowpack at
117 percent of average

Express Staff Writer

While record rain showers and cool temperatures gradually greened up Southern Idaho’s high desert in April, the state’s central mountains were pounded with significantly above-average snowfall.

Central Idaho’s mountain Snowtel sites registered readings that were 164 percent of the long-term average for the month and triggered above average season snowpack peaks a full month after they are commonly expected. It was the second above-average month in a row and just what the doctor ordered for the state’s drought-stricken farmers, flood-starved boaters and late-winter powder hounds.

"The rain is saving everybody a lot of money, because nobody’s had to turn water on" for irrigation of crops, said farmer Greg Cameron of Rupert. "It’s helped everything. Now, reservoir levels are up to where everybody’s real optimistic."

Nearly 2 inches of precipitation last month helped replenish parched soil and extended the irrigation season, giving an ideal start to grain crops and range land grasses. It’s a weather pattern that is slated to continue at least through this weekend.

"You really couldn’t have played it much better if you were writing a script," said Vince Alberdi, general manager of the Twin Falls Canal Co. "It postponed to great degree some irrigation in the project and allowed us to store some more water. It was just great to see our prayers answered."

The picture also started looking better at Magic Reservoir, where a scant 57,600 acre feet had been stored as of April 30, but the need to initiate irrigation flows was put off until May 11, possibly longer.

Across Idaho this week, Central Idaho’s river basin snowpacks exceeded long-term averages and rose with each day.

The Clearwater was 107 percent of average. The Salmon was 125 percent of average. The Payette was 124 percent, and the Big and Little Wood basins were 117 percent.

"Some of the sites there in the Big Wood are just reaching peak right now," said Natural Resources Conservation Service Hydrologist Ron Abramovich. "The longer we can keep the snow in the higher country, the better off we’ll be later this summer."

And the peak for those higher elevation sites is about 5 inches higher than the long-term average peak, which usually arrives about a month earlier. Runoff in the Big Wood drainage has not yet begun.

Away from the central mountains, however, the drought continues in full force.

"Shortages are expected across Southern Idaho, from the Bear River to the Owyhee basin," Abramovich said. "That’s where the most severe shortages will be this year. Boise could be tight, but they should be able to get by, too. The Payette, even in a below normal year, can get by pretty well."

Despite the cool, wet spring Idaho is having this spring, the long-term drought may continue, said Idaho Department of Water Resources spokesman Dick Larson.

"All you can say is, it looks like a near normal water year this year," Larson said. "Clearly we have pockets in Idaho were the water outlook is normal, but drought is a tricky thing. You can have a normal water year sandwiched in the middle of a full-on drought.

"Good shape is a relative term. If you compare to last year, we’re a lot better off."

Even though irrigation season has already begun, Abramovich said another month of cool, wet weather couldn’t hurt.

Said Larson: "It all comes down to snowflakes, man. If you got ‘em, you’re good. If not, you’re not."


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.