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Idaho drought surprises experts, results in watering cutbacks for farmers, residents

Nicole Blanchard and Rachel Spacek, Idaho Statesman on

Published in News & Features

Pioneer has also tapped into its stored water early.

“A normal year, we’d be about middle of June to middle of July before we start relying on storage water. … We’ve been diverting nearly all storage a month earlier than we normally do,” Zirschky said.

Pioneer has seen residential customers, which make up 50% to 60% of its users, defer to agriculture. Zirschky commended residential customers who’ve done so.

“You hope irrigation use will cater toward the agricultural needs,” he said. “We don’t eat our grass, we don’t eat our lawn. We’re all going to have to see our lawns brown a little bit this year, but if we want to eat, if we want to produce food for this state, for this country, we have to cater a little more to the agriculture needs in times of shortage.”

Other local irrigation districts are seeing similar cutbacks. Settlers Irrigation District, which spans about 14,000 acres in Meridian and Eagle, has cut all its water deliveries to 60%, according to an announcement on its website. Farmers Union Ditch Co. also announced a cutback to water deliveries as early as June 2. Irrigation at the Two Rivers luxury subdivision in Eagle has been turned off indefinitely, according to an automated phone message through the homeowners association. That subdivision is served by Mace Catlin Ditch Co..

“The consensus is we will probably see some canals in the valley go off in mid-September,” said Rex Barrie, the Boise River watermaster, in a phone interview.


Brent Orton, public works director for the city of Caldwell, is also concerned with agriculture water needs. The city is asking residents and homeowners associations to take a stricter approach to manage water use, “even if it means browning lawns and common areas for this year,” Orton said.

Orton suggests having households water at different times of the day on different days.

“We suggest watering on odd days if your address is an odd number and even days if your address is an even number,” he said. “This alone makes the irrigation experience better for the customer while reducing the water it takes to keep the season going.”

During the past month of the heat wave, Orton said the city has seen an increase in residents using potable, or drinking water, for irrigating.


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