Dry Sun Valley Lake

Last year's severe drought conditions produced record low-flow rates in the Big Wood River and completely dried up several bodies of water, including Sun Valley Lake, pictured here in August.

Blaine County officials are asking the Idaho Department of Water Resources to issue a drought emergency declaration for the county in a below-average year for water supply.

The county commissioners on Tuesday morning approved a letter to the director of the water department requesting the declaration.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as of April 6, snowpack is 69% of normal in the Big Wood Basin and 54% of normal in the Little Wood Basin.

The request follows a “bad winter” coming off an already low water supply, Blaine County Disaster Services Coordinator Chris Corwin said in Tuesday’s meeting. The drought conditions began with a lower-than-average snow season in 2020 and a dry summer, according to the letter.

“It’s not any secret our water is down below average this year,” Corwin said.

Based on current stream-flow predictions, the water master will likely curtail 90% to 95% of all Big Wood River natural flow water rights above Magic Reservoir, 100% of all natural flow rights below Magic Reservoir, and 90% to 95% of all Silver Creek/Little Wood River natural flow rights below the Little Wood/Silver Creek confluence, the letter notes.

County officials expect “a high probability of early downstream water calls, negatively affecting irrigators in Blaine County,” the letter states.

The request for a drought emergency declaration “is really in preparation for possible grants to cover expenses that were unanticipated for diversion of water,” Commissioner Dick Fosbury said in Tuesday’s meeting. The governor will ultimately determine whether to grant the request.

Fosbury, Commissioner Jacob Greenberg and Commissioner Angenie McCleary all expressed support for the letter.

“It gives us—the county—and the users protection,” Greenberg said.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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