U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- Although precipitation and mountain
snowpacks are at some of the highest levels since Idaho's drought
began in 2000, officials are hedging on whether the state's lengthy
dry spell is over.
"There's no question the drought will end, but the question is, is
the end now?'' Karl Dreher, director of the state Department of Water
Resources, said. He spoke after glowing reports of record-breaking
moisture content in central and southern Idaho snowpacks were
presented at a meeting of the multi-agency Idaho Water Supply
"I think it's great news there is a low probability of abnormal
water supplies this year, but I don't think it says anything about
next year,'' Dreher said. "It is not unusual to see an above-normal
water year right in the middle of a drought.''
If that's the case, then this year of the Idaho drought will be
marked by spring flooding, full reservoirs and the Boise River
swollen near the top of its banks as it rushes through Idaho's
"It's getting a lot tougher to argue we are still in a drought,''
Jay Breidenbach of the National Weather Service told the panel at
their first 2006 meeting. "Most of the drought has been erased in the
Pacific Northwest, and in general, we can pretty much declare this
drought is over for this part of the country.''
Hydrologists backed up that view with readings from mountain
snowpack-measurement stations around the state that had analysts
almost giddy after consecutive years of below-normal moisture levels.
"It's been a long time since I've seen one of these that had so
much blue and green on it,'' said Ron Abramovich, water supply
specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as he
held up a color-coded map of the state's river basins. It showed
mountain snowpacks across Idaho ranging from just under 100 percent
of normal to 175 percent of normal.
Some of the wettest snowpacks in the western U.S. are across the
agriculture belt of southern Idaho and the Snake River Basin, said
The agency's snowpack and precipitation summary showed the Snake
River Basin above Palisades Dam near the Wyoming border at 138
percent of normal, the Boise River Basin at 143 percent of normal,
the Big Wood River Basin at 154 percent of normal, the Payette River
Basin at 144 percent of normal, the Big Lost River Basin at 148
percent of normal and the Salmon River Basin at 133 percent of
The only river basins in the state currently below 100 percent of
normal are the Clearwater in north-central Idaho at 98 percent and
the Panhandle system of rivers at 97 percent.
Snowpack records have already been set in southwestern Idaho at
Bear Saddle in the Weiser Basin and South Mountain in the Owyhee
Basin, while the gauge at Galena Summit in the Sawtooth Range is
approaching a record set in 1997, one of the wettest years recorded.
In the Boise River Basin, the snowpack has reached a level not
normally seen until March 1 and last year not until the third week of
"But people are starting to ask what chances we have of ending up
below normal, because they've seen the spigot turn off as fast as it
turns on,'' said Abramovich.
Groundwater supplies may take longer to recover from so many years
of drought, said Idaho Water Resources analyst Liz Dobbins,
especially since farmers had to pump more water from aquifers because
of the shortage of surface supplies.
And Dreher contends regional climate change has created radical
variability in annual precipitation and snowfall patterns, making him
reluctant to declare an end to what he labeled an unprecedented
"If the climate data you are looking at continues to show a shift
long-term, that's good news,'' he said. "But is the drought over? I
say we don't know yet.''
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