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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, June 11, 2004


Rains donít remedy drought plight

Outlook grim for wild fire danger and irrigation reserves

Express Staff Writer

Despite the temporary relief brought by spring rains, public land managers and irrigators are bracing for a tough summer.

Years of drought and this seasonís early snowmelt have combined to create high wildfire potential and a continually decreasing water supply. Magic Reservoir on the Big Wood River, south of Bellevue, is at its second lowest level ever.

The Glendale Diversion on the Big Wood River diverts water to irrigators in the Bellevue Triangle and Picabo area. In dry years, it often dries up the river below its location, southwest of Bellevue. Express photo by David N. Seelig

"Once we get out of this cycle of moisture, itís really going to get dry," said Sawtooth National Forest public affairs specialist Ed Waldapfel.

Public land managers expect to be dealing with an above-average fire season this summer.

"Weíre paying an awful lot of attention to the Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Valley," Waldapfel said.

Drought conditions there have been exacerbated by a widespread pine beetle infestation, estimated to have killed more than one million trees.

In response, Waldapfel said, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to station a crew of 20 firefighters, an engine and a bulldozer in Stanley this summer. He said the agency is also working with the owners of homes in the rural subdivisions of Smiley Creek, Iron Creek and Crooked Creek to create fire buffers around their properties, mostly by cutting dead and dying trees.

Waldapfel said firefighters have already extinguished five small wildfires in the area this spring, some caused by out-of-control campfires.

Is the area now primed for a catastrophic fire that could blacken the entire Sawtooth Valley?

The potential is there, Waldapfel said, but itís not likely. A multi-year beetle infestation, similar to the current one, began about 1910. He said no massive fires occurred as a result.

In southern Blaine County, the recent rains are a mixed blessing.

"It may delay the fire season for a few weeks, but once things get hot and start to dry out, thereís more fuel there to burn," said Sky Huffaker, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Managementís South Central District.

Huffaker said the agency expects an average to above-average fire season. An average season, she said, sees about 150 wildfires that burn a total of about 90,000 acres.

She said the districtís 168 firefighters began three weeks of annual training in Twin Falls on June 1, and will be stationed at their posts immediately thereafter.

The dry conditions will also affect local farmers.

"After the first of July, itís going to be pretty grim on the Big Wood system," said Bob Simpson, water manager for the Little Wood Irrigation District.

Magic Reservoir is only 24 percent full. Normally at this time of year, the reservoir holds about 154,000 acre feet of water, but currently only contains 46,000 acre feet. Only in 1917 was its spring water level lower.

Irrigators upstream from the reservoir wonít have things much better. Due to low flows on the Big Wood River and diversions by early water-rights holders, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service expects that only 5 percent of normal water flow will reach Bellevue.

Simpson said Bellevue Triangle farmers and ranchers will probably get only two, rather than the normal three, hay crops. He said barley farmers will probably also produce lower-than-normal yields.

However, the situation in the Little Wood drainage is much better, with the Little Wood Reservoir being 90 percent full.

Reservoirs supplying nearby rivers used by rafters and kayakers are also in good shape. Cascade Reservoir, which supplies the North Fork of the Payette and the Main Payette, is full. Anderson Ranch Reservoir, which supplies the South Fork of the Boise River, is 89 percent full.

Turnoff faucets

Wood River Valley residents this summer will be required to obey the same watering restrictions that have been in effect for the past few years. Those are:

∑  For Sun Valley: Those whose street numbers end with an even digit can water only on even days; those whose numbers end with an odd digit can water on odd days. Only 30 minutes of sprinkling allowed per day.

∑  For Ketchum: Watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, from June 15 to Sept. 1.

∑  For Hailey: Watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. Even street numbers water on even days, odd numbers on odd days; nobody waters on the 31st.

∑  For Bellevue: Even street numbers water on even days, odd numbers on odd days. Only 30 minutes of sprinkling allowed at any spot. Those with automatic systems water 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. Those with manual sprinklers water 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.


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