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Extreme Drought In South Central Idaho Likely To Pose Challenges For Agriculture

National Drought Monitor
About a quarter of Idaho is in some level of drought, with part of south central Idaho experiencing extreme drought conditions as of the beginning of April 2021

Forty percent of the western United States is experiencing extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Some parts are even in a climate change-driven “megadrought.” 


While Idaho isn’t faring as badly as the Southwest, about a quarter of the state is experiencing some level of drought, with one epicenter in particular seeing extreme conditions.


That bullseye is in the Pioneer Mountains, which straddle Blaine and Custer counties.


“This is an ongoing long-term drought that started back in the Fall of 2019, and we just haven’t seen any kind of recovery there yet,” said David Hoekema, a hydrologist for the Idaho Department of Water Resources. He spoke during the last water supply meeting of the winter season on Friday. 


The month of March, Hoekema said, was very dry for the whole state, meaning most places have already seen peak snowpack, and it’s begun to melt several days earlier than normal. 


Danny Tappa of the National Resources Conservation Service shared some good news during the meeting. Snowpack across most of the state is better than expected considering the dry year, especially in the north where basins are near or slightly above normal levels. That means most of the state’s reservoirs are expected to fill. 


Unfortunately that trend doesn’t extend to south central Idaho where the drought’s the worst. There, snowpack is below-average, at about 60% to 70% of normal levels. 


“In the Big Wood Basin, for example, we’re looking at needing 92% of normal runoff and our current forecast is 32%,” Tappa said. 


It’s a similar situation for the Big Lost River Basin to the east. That means a high likelihood for significant agricultural water shortages in those basins, impacting producers with irrigated crops and ones with grazing operations. 


Several Magic Valley and Wood River Valley farmers had their irrigation water shut off early last summer. 


Blaine County requested an official drought declaration last week, which Gov. Little has to sign off on. That’s a step six south central Idaho counties took last year amid the drought. Most of those declarations were made later in the spring.  

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 

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