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March precipitation has bumped southwest Idaho’s water outlook into the comfort zone.
Courtesy of Galen Lee
Galen Lee of Sunnyside Farm LLC, New Plymouth, Idaho, says adequate water supply means no on-field changes to his crop lineup are needed.
Heavy precipitation across much of Idaho’s midsection during March bodes well for water users such as Galen Lee, who farms between Caldwell, Idaho, and Ontario, Ore.
“We haven’t had to make a change for the current year or in recent years,” said Lee, who operates Sunnyside Farm LLC near New Plymouth, Idaho.
Strong recent precipitation coupled with ample carry-over storage in reservoirs in the wake of the high-water 2017 help ensure many Idaho farmers can move forward as planned.
March precipitation totaled about 165 percent of the 30-year average across a swath of central Idaho encompassing the Boise River system to the west and the Big Wood, Little Wood, Big Lost and Little Lost rivers to the east, said Ron Abramovich, a water supply specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise.
These basins are now up to about 75 percent of their average snowpack compared to 45 to 70 percent a month earlier.
Snowpack totaled 50 to 80 percent of the 30-year average for March across southern Idaho including the Owyhee drainage to the west, the Bear River Basin to the east, and the Bruneau, Salmon Falls and Oakley basins from west to east in the middle.
Owyhee was on the low end of the range, and the Bear River Basin was on the high end. Abramovich said streamflow forecasts across this area call for 40 to 70 percent of normal runoff.
“Water supplies will be adequate this year across Idaho due to carryover storage and the snowpack we currently have in the mountains,” Abramovich said.
Lee said the Black Canyon Reservoir, in the Emmett-Horseshoe Bend area, is well-supplied. That benefits Sunnyside and other farms served by associated canal companies.
“If there were a predicted shortage, we would make a change. We would have to,” said Lee, board member and past president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. For example, he would consider planting more wheat and less corn, which uses more water.
He said crops suited to year-to-year changes include wheat, corn and even sugar beets, subject to growers’ minimum targets. Crops that stay in the field long-term — and offer less flexibility — include mint, alfalfa and asparagus.
Sunnyside Farm grows about 500 acres of corn and 229 acres of beets. Other acreage totals include peppermint at 200, alfalfa hay at 180 and asparagus at 35. Sunnyside also operates a 280-head dairy and small feedlot.
Going forward, “we are in pretty good shape,” Lee said. “We have had some water this year.”
The Idaho Water Supply Outlook Report for April 1 is expected to be available by April 6 at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/.
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April 11, 2018 at 08:35AM