Drought

A drive across the Northwest quickly reveals things look really dry everywhere.

From Wenatchee, Washington, to Bend, Oregon, whitewater rafting guides are preparing for a flood of business as school lets out. But this year’s low snowpack could mean less whitewater and more demand for trips.

Thomas Hawk / Flickr Creative Commons

Fremont County is the most recent addition of Idaho communities to receive a drought emergency declaration from the state. Blaine, Lincoln, Butte and Custer counties were given the designation on April 10, the earliest time for a state-approved drought declaration in the last five years.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee Friday significantly expanded a drought declaration due to dwindling snowpack.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

The U.S. Agriculture Department has declared two northeast Nevada counties natural disaster areas due to the lingering drought with an emergency order that also makes emergency low-interest loans available to farmers, ranchers and businesses in parts of neighboring Idaho and Utah.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday declared Nevada's Elko and Eureka counties primary natural disaster areas. The disaster assistance that becomes available there also applies to contiguous counties in Utah — Box Elder and Tooele — and in Idaho's Cassia, Owyhee and Twin Falls counties.

Across the Northwest, farmers are already making tough calls because of this year’s drought. The dismal snowpack is to blame.

Laura Gilmore / Flickr Creative Commons

Farmers in the Owyhee Basin are bracing for a very difficult summer season because this is the second year of an extreme drought.

The largely agricultural area along the border of Idaho and Oregon gets water from the Owyhee Reservoir, which is at just 27 percent of normal capacity. A dry and warm winter made replenishing the water supply difficult.

California Governor Jerry Brown ordered statewide mandatory water saving measures Wednesday. Water managers are preparing for drought in Oregon and Washington state as well.

Jeff Jones / Flickr Creative Commons

Warm temperatures in February have taken a toll on winter snowpack in the Cascade Mountains and other areas in the West.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday that nearly a third of monitoring sites in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada reported the lowest snowpack ever measured as of March 1, and some sites didn't have snow.

Snowpack in Nevada, Utah and Idaho also fell farther below normal.

National Weather Service Boise

So far, February is turning out to be an unusually warm month in southern Idaho. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), temperatures for the first two weeks of the month have been 10 degrees above normal and have included two record-breaking high temperatures.

NWS Boise hydrologist Troy Lindquist says a wet and cooler spring would help the situation, and an early mountain snowmelt makes this year's water picture less sustainable.

Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

The largest-ever review of water rights claims wrapped up in Idaho this week. A project that started in 1987 ended Monday when a judge signed the final decree of the Snake River Basin Adjudication

Conflicts between Idaho Power, its customers and farmers in southern Idaho in the late 1970s prompted the state to tackle the massive review. The goal was simple: to clearly define water rights in the basin to help resolve future disputes during drought. 

Since the project, Idaho has defined more than 158,000 water rights.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved emergency haying and grazing on land normally used for the Conservation Reserve Program in parts of eastern Idaho.

Officials in Bingham, Bonneville, Fremont, Madison and Power counties requested the emergency access because of drought and crop damage. The USDA's Farm Service Agency in Idaho announced Monday that the requests were approved.

The emergency haying is allowed through the end of August, and participants must leave at least half of each field unhayed for wildlife. The hay can't be sold.

Irrigators, hydropower dam operators and tugboat captains are sitting pretty across most of the Northwest according to the latest regional water supply forecast.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added a southern Idaho county to its list of Idaho regions considered natural disaster areas because of drought.

The department designated Elmore County a primary natural disaster area, making farmers and ranchers in the county eligible for natural disaster assistance. Other Idaho counties with federal natural disaster declarations include Ada, Boise, Custer, Owyhee, Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Twin Falls.

water, snowpack, map
NRCS/USDA

The latest map showing the water content of Idaho’s snowpack reveals the state continues to make up significant deficits seen early this winter.

Idaho has 21 basins where the Natural Resources Conservation Service measures snow accumulation and then assesses how the water content compares to that of a normal year. As of Thursday, all but five are at 80 percent of their average, or greater.

The Boise River basin is at 95 percent. The Payette River basin is 94. Most areas in central, northern and eastern Idaho are now above 100 percent of their normal snowpack levels.

When Pete Olsen talks about drought on his fifth-generation dairy farm in Fallon, Nev., he's really talking about the snowpack 60 miles to the west in the Sierra Nevada.

The Sierras, Olsen says, are their lifeblood.

That is, the snowmelt from them feeds the Truckee and Carson rivers and a tangle of reservoirs and canals that make this desert bloom. Some of the highest-grade alfalfa in the world is grown here. And it makes perfect feed for dairy cows, because it's rich in nutrients.

National Weather Service

What a difference a week makes.

Last week, concern was mounting over how little precipitation had fallen in southern Idaho this winter. Now, forecasters say areas in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon could see several days of flooding.

At a 10,000-foot summit in Yosemite National Park, Frank Gehrke clicks into his cross-country skis and pushes off down a small embankment onto a meadow of crusty snow. He's California's chief of snow surveys, one of the most influential jobs in a state where snow and the water that comes from it are big currency. He's on his monthly visit to one of a dozen snowpack-measuring stations scattered across the high country of the Sierra Nevada.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Much of Idaho has been in a severe drought and  scientists have now calculated how much rain and snow some Idaho water users will need in order to get by next summer.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has looked at surface water needs for the Snake River Basin.

Water supply specialist Ron Abramovich says if the state’s agricultural heartland from Idaho Falls to Twin Falls gets average precipitation, "They should be able to just squeak by with an adequate irrigation supply next year.”

droughtmonitor.unl.edu

Despite recent rainfall, southwest Idaho's Treasure Valley is currently experiencing "extreme" drought conditions with most of the state in a "severe" drought. The entire state of Idaho is experiencing some level of drought, with the exception of a sliver of the northern panhandle.

An online project called U.S. Drought Monitor maps the nation's drought conditions on a weekly basis using multiple indices.

Nicholas D. / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s only July 22, but Lucky Peak Reservoir is already seeing the effects of a dry and hot season.

The Bureau of Reclamation has started dropping water levels in the reservoir, and is diverting the water for irrigation. Farmers in the Boise River watershed usually get water from the system around Labor Day. But with supplies at about 50 percent of normal, this year the diversion is happening five weeks earlier.

So what does this mean for recreation at Lucky Peak the rest of this summer?

Drought, map, weather
U.S. Drought Monitor / USDA

Federal agencies have expanded how much of the Northwest they think is suffering from drought. Updated figures released Thursday shows 88 percent of Idaho's territory is now categorized in moderate to severe drought. Just over half of Oregon is similarly parched. Washington state is faring better with just a sliver - 2 percent -  classified in drought conditions.

Amelia Templeton / EarthFix

This week, water regulators are ordering dozens of ranchers along Southern Oregon’s Williamson River to shut down their irrigation pumps. It’s the latest round of shutoffs near the headwaters of the Klamath River. The state says it is necessary to protect treaty rights of tribes who live downstream. But the water shut-off jeopardizes a multimillion-dollar cattle ranching industry.

Klamath Tribes Call In Their Water Rights

Jun 11, 2013

With drought conditions worsening in southern Oregon, the Klamath Tribes for the first time are exercising their claim as the most senior water rights holder in the Klamath Basin.

It’s a step that could make water unavailable for farmers to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of crops and alfalfa. The tribes delivered what's known as 'a call' Monday to the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The people who raise cattle destined to become steak or hamburger on your dinner plate are feeling the pinch. Wildfires this summer have scorched more than a million acres of Northwest rangeland. In addition, the Midwest drought is driving up feed costs across the board.

Now ranches and feedlots are looking to cut their feed costs in the short term.  And longer term, have an eye on making the cattle themselves more efficient.

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