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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

“We don’t want to put a strain on the capacity to pump water so we are asking people to be careful about using potable water for irrigation and asking homeowners to be patient with lawns browning,” Orton said.

Since the city issued its joint press release with Pioneer Irrigation, Orton said, people have responded by using less potable water and coordinating watering days.

The city of Nampa also asked residents to alternate watering days and suggested that people watering adjust the time they water to between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Meridian Mayor Robert Simison also warned residents of irrigation concerns in a blog post on the city website.

It’s too early to tell what sort of precipitation this winter and next spring will bring. Hoekema said it’s too late now for Idaho to recoup its losses in the current water year, which ends in September.

“There’s really no recovery at this point, it’s just a matter of trying to utilize our resources as best we can to get through this period,” Hoekema said.

Using storage water now could leave reservoirs at lower capacity for the next water year, and a poor snowpack or another dry spring could mean a worsening drought. Barrie called the winter precipitation “the great unknown.”

“If we don’t get any snow this winter, we could be looking at a very brief (season) … if we have a season at all next year. It really depends on the snowpack,” Zirschky said.

Lucas said farmers are already concerned about water next year.

 

“If we don’t get a snowpack, it is going to snowball,” he said. “(Farmers) are going to look into the future and grow crops that are not as risky, like wheat or something that comes off early. They are not going to take a risk with something like sugar beets, or sweet corn.”

Lucas said Crookham Seed Co. is beginning to plant onion seed that grows in the fall. Without water in September, he said the seed won’t be there to harvest come winter.

Steve Spiteri, a farmer with Ohana No-Till Farm, a small farm in Meridian, said drought concern is one reason his farm has adopted techniques to reduce its water usage. He uses drip line irrigation, vertical farming and hydroponics to reduce water needs, he said. Spiteri’s operation is much smaller than Crookham, but he believes more farmers are going to have to use more sustainable farming models that require less water.

“The techniques that worked in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s just don’t work anymore,” he said.

Barrie said everyone should be careful about how they’re using resources this year.

“I would encourage people to conserve in any way they can,” he said.

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