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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Dec 31, 2003 - Jan 6, 2004


Storms put Idaho on target for average year

Big Wood Basin is 103 percent of average

"We are about a third of the way though a nine-inning game. We still have six more innings."

RON ABROMOVICH, NRCS water supply specialist

Express Staff Writers

Following the latest volley of winter storms to hit Idaho, all but two of the state’s major river basins are boasting above average snowpacks for this point in the state’s wet season.

But water experts are cautioning that the winter is not yet half over, and the state has a long way to go to make up for three years of drought.

Snow is piling up across Idaho at a pace that puts the drought-ridden state on target for average season totals. Express photo by Willy Cook

"We are about a third of the way though a nine-inning game," said Ron Abromovich, a water supply specialist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. "We still have six more innings."

Though the Big Wood River basin in which Sun Valley is positioned is boasting a snowpack that is 103 percent of average for late-December, the drainage has only 37 percent of its average season total snowfall.

Whether or not the next three months add up to an average, surplus or deficit year depends on temperatures and snowfall in the coming months.

"It’s going to be critical that we get another good snow year," Abromovich said. "The Boise and the Payette reservoirs are in better shape, but we didn’t get fall rains. Soil is more dry along the Snake River."

Abromovich said it could take anywhere from 3 to 6 inches of water just to recharge Idaho’s parched earth once spring arrives and the ground thaws.

"In some places, you can dig down two or three inches, and the soil will be dry," he said.

According to NRCS snow monitoring sites, Southwest Idaho has accumulated the most snow compared with average figures thus far this winter. Southeast Idaho’s Bear River drainage and the Little Lost River drainage in eastern Idaho are below 100 percent of average for late-December.

But compared with recent winters, things are looking up for Idaho, said Dick Larson, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Water Resources, which governs water use throughout the state.

"We’re a whole lot better this year than we were last year at this time," Larson said. "That is absolutely positive news. Last year was a miserable year."

While a boon for irrigators who depend on natural river flows, an average winter snow season will not refill the state’s depleted reservoirs, Larson said.

"If the water is normal, about 100 percent—given that, you would end up with a pretty normal water year," he said. "We need a far above average snowpack to be looking at refilling the reservoirs and providing the natural flow."

Drought, to some degree, will likely continue, he said.

"If you want to stop writing about drought, we need a huge, super snowpack across the state," Larson said. "If we get that, you guys could quit writing about drought and start writing about flooding."

Larson said the state’s water supply picture should begin to come into better focus on Jan. 20, winter’s approximate half way point, when water experts converge on Boise for a Water Supply Committee meeting.

In the meantime, Idaho citizens who depend on water for their livelihoods and for recreation can continue to keep their eyes on weather maps and look for more Pacific storms to crash through the Northern Rockies.

Water experts monitor snow accumulations across Idaho at dozens of infrared sensor sites in various mountain locations. The sites measure snow depth and the snow water equivalent, data that helps water forecasters predict what kind of spring and summer runoff will occur.

The information is important for river runners, farmers, irrigators, public works managers and homeowners as they plan for spring.

So far, the chances for a good 2004 runoff are on track, Abromovich said.

"I hope the snow keeps up for the new year," he said.



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