Letters From the West

Boise Board of Control sets water allocation at one foot instead of three (Video)

Tim Page finally told farmers this week they could expect to get about a third of the water from the Boise River through New York Canal.

Page, the watermaster and project manager for the Boise Board of Control, has waited more than two weeks later than usual to set the allocation as he watched the weather and the mountains. He was hoping for spring rains and hot weather to offset the dismal winter snowpack –71 percent of average — in the Boise Basin so he could set the allocation higher.

But the dry, cool conditions since irrigation season began April 1 have kept what snow is in the upper basin from melting, raising flows in the river. In the mean time he and other canal watermasters have been forced to call for reservoir operators to release water stored in reservoirs like Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock and Lucky Peak already to meet the demand.

Page set the allocation Thursday at one foot, which means one acre of land can expect to get one acre foot of water – 325,851 gallons — this year instead of the three feet they usually get. Some farmers have additional carryover water stored in the reservoirs because they didn’t use it all last year.

“If it warms up and starts to melt that snow we might be able to add to that,” Page said.

The 90-day forecast is for more dry weather, Page said. The sprinkles Friday didn’t do much but he’s hopeful the warm spell forecast beginning this weekend may help begin to fill the reservoirs.

He prefers the snow melts fast and comes quick.

“If it comes off over time we lose more to evaporation and seepage into the ground,” Page said.

Page and other irrigation officials are encouraging people to conserve water both to stretch out this season and perhaps to leave some storage water for next year. But ultimately the weather will drive everyone’s decisions.

“We keep getting questions about how long is it going to go Tim,” Page said. “Well it all depends on the weather.”

Here is Tim Page wrapping it all up:

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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