Drought

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.

Molly Messick / StateImpact

Some of Idaho’s most fertile farm ground has been hit by the drought that’s crippling crops nationwide.  Farmers who have deep wells and irrigation are faring well.  Those who don’t aren’t.  It’s one indication of the very different economics of dry-land and irrigated farming.

drought, field, agriculture
Molly Messick / Boise State Public Radio

In Idaho’s arid, high desert, the drought has a mixed effect.  There’s a big divide between farmers with deep wells and irrigation, and those without.

Hans Hayden is a rare find: a talkative farmer.  He likes to explain things.  But when it comes to the wheat he planted this spring, there’s not much to say.  This field needed rain it didn’t get. 

The drought that hit the West from 2000-2004 is not only the worst in 800 years, but it could be the new “normal”. That’s according to new research in the journal Nature Geoscience.

You’d have to go back to the middle ages to find a period as dry as 2000-2004 in the American West.

Snowpack decreased. Crop productivity in much of the west went down by 5-percent.

And that’s not the worst of it, the researchers say.

Anna King / Northwest news Network

Drought that’s sizzling the rest of the nation has largely left the Northwest states alone. Furthermore, the Midwest’s farmers’ misfortune is actually benefiting farmers here.

That’s because grain prices are going up due to the Heartland’s decimated yields. Meanwhile, many Northwest farmers crops are above average.

Todd Ray is the owner of 10 New Holland tractor dealerships in Washington and Oregon. He says Northwest farmers may be doing better than the rest of the country, but they still have to think about high input costs –- like gas, tires and fertilizer.

Drought Could Have Mixed Impacts On Idaho Farmers

Jul 24, 2012
Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

The drought that’s gripped much of the country is hurting farmers from Texas to North Dakota. And here in Idaho, the effects of drought could be mixed for farmers and consumers.

Take your average grocery bill. Expect it to go up because of the drought says Paul Paterson.  The agriculture economist with the University of Idaho says the decimation of Midwestern crops like corn and wheat will increase the cost of most processed foods.

Dry Conditions For Idaho’s Dryland Farmers

May 30, 2012
Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Last year, farmers and ranchers in southeast Idaho had a hard time getting crops in the ground because of persistent wet weather.  This year they’re facing the opposite problem, as weeks have passed without substantial rainfall.

University of Idaho agricultural economist Paul Patterson says irrigated areas in the region are faring well because of water left in storage from last year.  But dryland farmers, whose croplands aren’t irrigated, are less fortunate.  Those south of the Snake River in Power, Bannock and Oneida Counties appear to be hardest hit.

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