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Idaho water managers balance flood risk and irrigation storage as snow melts

Water managers said conditions look promising for a strong irrigation season in southern Idaho.
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Water managers said conditions look promising for a strong irrigation season in southern Idaho.

As snow begins melting in Idaho’s mountains, water managers are getting a better picture of what spring irrigation season might look like.

It ended up being a pretty good snow year. That is, for southern Idaho, as Erin Whorton with the Natural Resources Conservation Service explained at a water supply meeting on Friday.

“March was quite wet, especially in the southern part of the state," she said. "At this point, we've got above-normal conditions below the Snake River Plain, near normal north of there, in those central west basins over to the east.”

It’s a different story, though, in North Idaho. The region saw one of its lowest snowpacks on record and is in a moderate to severe drought.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Though March was wet in southern Idaho, it was also warm. That prompted some early snowmelt. It’s thrown water managers into a balancing act "to try to regulate the runoff in such a way that we don't flood people out, but then fill the reservoirs on the tail end of runoff," said Jeremy Dalling with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Snake River office.

Map of Boise River reservoirs
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
The three reservoirs on the Boise River system are at 85% of capacity

Reservoirs in the Upper Snake River system are 89% full. Storage on the Boise River is at about 85% capacity and operators are releasing more water this week to avoid flooding.

Dalling said, unless precipitation comes to a halt, irrigators that draw from the Snake River could receive their full allocations this year.

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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