by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer
Water managers in the region are predicting a dire year for irrigators in Power and Bingham counties.
When asked about indications that 2013 would be a light water year, Aberdeen/Springfield Canal Company General Manager Steven Howser said the indications are much worse.
“Saying it is a ‘light water year’ is a very nice way of saying it. I would characterize this year as a drought emergency. I liken it to what we saw in 2003,” said Howser.
Falls Irrigation Company Manager Terrell Sorensen is seeing similarities to other low-water years.
“This is a lot like 1992 or 2002 when were almost down to river flow,” said Sorensen.
Sorensen called the 2013 season unusual.
“The snow pack looked good, but last year was so dry the runoff soaked straight into the ground,” said Sorensen.
Water managers are hopeful, but cautious, that a full water season can be accomplished if water users are vigorous about conservation.
“I have asked our users to maximize their irrigation systems by replacing nozzles, washers and heads that are leaking. I have emphasized proper pond management for those using a pond. It is really important that all of our irrigators make the most of their 24 hour cycle by moving lines effectively. Irrigators need to work with the ditch riders to eliminate losing unneeded water that can be moved to a place where it is needed,” said Howser.
Sorensen said farmers in the Falls Irrigation District are very conservation minded, but more is needed to make a full season.
“Our water users are very tight about their conservation efforts because we pump water. We hope to have a full year, but so much depends on how low the reservoirs in the system get. This year it is important that our users call when they don’t need water and don’t spill the extra water,” said Sorensen.
Sorensen said the differences between Falls Irrigation and Aberdeen/Springfield will make a notable difference between users in each system.
“We are a bit different than Aberdeen/Springfield. Most of our water is in storage and we had some carryover from last year that will help move us through this year,” said Sorensen.
Aberdeen/Springfield is primarily dependent on surface flow to fill customer orders, but does have some storage in the Snake River Basin. Howser said even the storage situation is bleak.
“We have 100 percent fill of our storage in Jackson Lake, but that is a small percentage of our actual storage water. Most of our storage is in Palisades Reservoir, about 63 percent of our total storage is in that reservoir, however, we only have approximately 20 percent fill of our storage in Palisades,” said Howser.
Howser said the Aberdeen/Springfield Canal Company is taking other steps to help irrigators this season.
“Our board of directors instructed me to write letters to the Bingham and Power county commissions requesting a drought emergency declaration. Many people are surprised by just how desperate the water situation is this year,” said Howser.
Howser said an emergency declaration will simplify some steps to getting much needed extra water to farmers.
“Asking the commissioners to make the declaration is the first step in the process. Once a declaration is accepted it will make things like emergency water right transfers much easier,” said Howser.
While a declaration will simplify the political and paperwork process of securing water Howser said he faces the same difficulties with or without the declaration.
“Having a declaration will give us more options to find emergency water, but the situation remains the same without a declaration. We have to find the water to keep our farmers going,” said Howser.
Sorensen said getting water into the system is the base problem for canal managers.
“It is looking like it is going to be a tight year, but a good rain could change everything,” said Sorensen.
Howser said much of this year will be about managing the things that can be controlled.
“A solid rain storm or two could really make a difference this year. Right now we need to be watchful about the stuff we can control. What we really need is cooperation. We need to share our water. If we can share effectively we can still make a year of it,” said Howser.
Both Sorensen and Howser are reluctant to give a specific date for water shutoff because there are still too many variables to account for. Howser did, however, project a best-case-scenario.
“If we conserve all that we can and manage everything perfectly I could see the season lasting until mid-September. But, perfect is a lot to ask for,” said Howser.