IDWR: widespread drought, water shortages in southern Idaho

Little snowpack leads to below-average streamflows

On April 29, 2022 Gary Spackman, Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR), issued an emergency drought declaration that includes all 34 counties south of the Salmon River in Central and Southern Idaho. (Only 10 counties in the state are not impacted.)

Governor Brad Little approved the declaration, making it effective immediately.

On May 11 Leila Fadel (LF) of NPR Morning Edition interviewed Joel Anderson (JA), Executive Director of the nonprofit Snake River Farmers Association to explain the effect on agricultural producers. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

JA: Farmers are always subject to the vicissitudes of nature and risk is always inherent to what they do. But this year, U.S. farmers and ranchers are facing more threats and challenges all at once perhaps than ever before.

LF: Have you seen this kind of volatility before: the issue of water shortages and drought in the mountain west? What’s the water lookout for the growing cycle in places like Idaho?

JA: The Idaho governor approved an emergency drought declaration for 34 of 44 counties, essentially signaling across the state there will be a substantial shortage of water… even a wet April and increase in snowpack to the mountains hasn’t necessarily relieved the problem.

LF: Does this suggest any type of long-term shift in the commodities market for farmers nationwide?

JA: It’s tough to know because we’re on the microscale of a macro problem and issue. The water shortages come and go.

JA: The biggest challenges in what we’re hearing from our producers are big picture – labor shortages, the availability of parts, and the disruption to the supply chain – those three factors.

JA: Water is beyond their control. Labor is beyond their control. And the shipping problems are beyond their control…

In early April, IDWR hydrologist David Hoekema spoke with local news station KTVB7. Weather and streamflow data collected by IDWR suggest that the state “started with a great winter and record-breaking snowfall at the end of 2021.” However, mountain snow was “already beginning to melt” in early April, offering "very little chance of recovery” (to normal conditions this water year).

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