Wednesday, May 8, 2013

County ponders drought declaration

Commissioner: Request is earlier than last yearís


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Cool temperatures this spring have allowed the high mountains to retain some snow, but water officials say they are starting to worry about this seasonís water supplies. As a result, those officials have petitioned county officials to ask the state for an emergency drought declaration. Photo by Willy Cook

Commissioner Larry Schoen proposed petitioning the governor for an emergency drought declaration for Blaine County this week, citing cold, dry conditions that already have irrigators worrying about water supplies.  
    A news release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service on Friday states that streamflows and reservoir inflows remain low in the state, due to cold April temperatures keeping what remains of the snowpack in higher elevations.
    Ron Abramovich, Idaho NRCS water supply specialist, said in the release that current snowmelt stands at about half an inch a day, which is easily absorbed by the soil.
    “The high elevation snowpack hasn’t started to melt yet, due to the cool spring temperatures,” he said. “But snowpacks are below their seasonal peaks, so there is not a lot of snow up there to sustain streamflows.”
    Schoen said he has already been contacted by regional water master Kevin Lakey, as well as Lawrence Kimball, water master for the Fish Creek Reservoir Co. Schoen said both men requested that the county petition both Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman and Gov. Butch Otter for an emergency drought declaration.
    “We have had cold, dry conditions, and the coolness has kept some of the moisture from flowing into the main rivers,” Schoen said, noting that this is the earliest emergency drought declaration request from Blaine County in recent history.
    “We did it quite early last year, but not as early as this,” he said. “As far as the water master knows, this is the earliest ever.”
    Schoen said the declaration, if approved, would allow water masters more flexibility to reallocate water rights in the Fish Creek area, near Carey.
    “I don’t know that every year we can let Fish Creek drive the whole county,” he said, but added that he supported the request.
    Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she, too, supports the request, while Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said he wants to do some further investigation before agreeing to sign the request.
    “I got this [information] this morning, so I need some time, not just you telling me, to do my own [research],” he said. “I can’t say yes or no right now.”
    Greenberg said he would make some phone calls and hopes to be able to decide within the next few days.


Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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