Idaho water managers report encouraging drought conditions

2021 was a brutal year for water resources in Idaho, but moisture and cooler temperatures in early 2022 helped prevent a repeat in Southwest Idaho.

BOISE, Idaho — In early 2022 there were major concerns about drought and water conditions in Southwest Idaho. After a brutal 2021, there was fear of a repeat.

“We definitely avoided the worst-case scenario. We had an awful snowpack on April 1st across the state, but then we had incredibly cool temperatures for April, May and June,” said David Hoekema, a hydrologist with the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Hoekema said the nice cool weather in the spring, especially at higher elevations, really made a huge difference for the summer months, cooler temperatures protected the snow runoff from depleting early in the season.

“Those really cool temperatures slowed down the melt. And with the precipitation coming in that cool, cool weather, we’re losing our low elevation snowpack, but building some high elevation snowpack. So overall, the snowpack was somewhat stable,” Hoekema said.

Other water managers agree.

“Things look a lot better as of now,” said Ryan Hedrick, a monitor of the water and drought situation for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Hedrick says they too had major concerns coming into the year, especially after 2021’s conditions.

“Biggest concern was we weren’t going to fill the system. But with that late spring condition, things turned around for us and we were able to fill all the reservoirs,” Hedrick said.

One major factor the agriculture community follows closely is the amount of irrigation water that is available for their operations. If water resources are low, agriculture seasons get cut down, costing Idahoans valuable business. There were fears that irrigation supply would run out in the hot summer months, but now the situation looks more promising.

“It looked like they were talking about shutting down earlier at the start of the year with the low water. Water depends on what the irrigation districts want to do, but I could see them going into late September and then maybe shutting off around there,” Hedrick said.

Water levels at reservoirs in the Boise basin also look better than expected. Lucky Peak sits at 99% full, Anderson Ranch 90%, and Arrowrock 36%. The Boise River system is at 77% of capacity as a whole.

“We always have to be careful, but it looks like we’re going to have a good carryover higher in the system, which is what we’re going for. And it sets us up for next year. But it never keeps us out of the danger zone,” Hedrick said.

The developments have also pushed Southwest Idaho out of drought classification.

“In fact, in the Boise basin, we’re no longer in a drought category. Our category is drier than normal, and even then we’re just barely on the edge of drier than normal,” Hoekema said.

Portions of Central and Southeast Idaho are seeing really challenging conditions, with extreme drought in some spots. The major difference from West to East, weather patterns to start the year.

“A lot of it had to do with the really cool temperatures. If we hadn’t had those cool temperatures, even with the precipitation coming in, we would not have recovered from drought, really. Those temperatures were the key to slowing everything down and allowing the reservoir system to fill,” Hoekema said.

Also of note, the seasonal drawdown for Lucky Peak is set to begin on August 14th. The US army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation announced back on Friday that they will begin gradually lowering the pool elevation of Lucky Peak Reservoir over a two-week period.

So, starting on August 14th the reservoir will drop 1-to-3 feet a day until it’s low enough for the winter.

Water managers say if you’re boating, you should be careful, especially when you’re along the shoreline because you can get stranded as water levels recede.

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