A drought declaration has been declared for Blaine and Lincoln counties, allowing temporary transfers of water rights without going through the usual bureaucratic process.
The transfers can be made among parcels of land with water rights of different years owned by one entity, or between properties owned by different people.
The declaration was issued by the Idaho Department of Water Resources after being signed by Director Gary Spackman and Gov. Butch Otter.
Drought emergencies have also been declared for adjacent Custer and Butte counties, as well as for Clark County to the northeast.
Camas Creek, which feeds into Magic Reservoir, is predicted
to flow at only 16 percent of normal.
The declarations were made upon request by each county’s board of county commissioners.
The Blaine declaration states that the county is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions due to below-normal snowpack and precipitation.
According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snow-water equivalent levels as of May 1 were 100 percent of normal in the Big Wood Basin and 56 percent of normal in the Little Wood Basin.
However, NRCS Water Supply Specialist Ron Abramovich said those numbers are misleading due to somewhat delayed snowmelt, low carry-over storage in Magic Reservoir and dry soils following numerous drought years.
May-to-July stream flows in the Big Wood River at Hailey are predicted to be 65 percent of average and below Magic Dam only 51 percent of average. Flows in the Little Wood River near Carey are predicted to be 44 percent of average.
Camas Creek, which feeds into Magic Reservoir, is predicted to flow at only 16 percent of normal.
Abramovich said that despite last week’s storms, April precipitation for the Big Wood Basin was only 70 percent of normal.
“There’s one strip from the Owyhee Basin to the Big Lost Basin where you missed the storms,” he said.
According to the NRCS, current snow-water equivalent throughout the state ranges from a low of 52 percent of normal in the Bruneau River basin to 158 percent of normal in the upper Snake River. Water supply is also plentiful in northern Idaho.
The drought declaration allows the Department of Water Resources to approve temporary changes in the point of diversion, the place of use of the water and the purpose of use. All temporary changes expire at the end of the year.
Temporary changes may not be approved to provide water for new development or to allow expansion of the use of water under existing water rights.
Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said the declaration will probably be most useful to the owners of large farms in the Little Wood River and Silver Creek areas.