Burley flooding

Clay Garbett tries to get a water pump to work Jan. 11 at Ray Schmitt’s house in Burley.


TWIN FALLS — Have you seen smiles on farmers’ faces these days?

Mother Nature has built deep snowpacks this winter in Idaho’s mountains, assuring enough irrigation water for the upcoming growing season.

“The stage is now set for abundant streamflow this year, especially in Central and Southern Idaho,” says the March 1 Idaho Water Supply Outlook Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But for those in the Magic Valley devastated by recent flooding, the thought of “abundant streamflows” may have them shaking in their rubber boots.

All that worry is probably not necessary, said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The snowpack that flooded the valley floor earlier this winter is mostly gone, Abramovich said.

What about the snowpack in the mountains?

“The big key factor is how the snow comes off in the spring,” said Corey Loveland, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water operations manager in Heyburn.

But if flooding does occur with the spring thaw, it won’t look like February’s flooding.

“That was lowland flooding — uncommon for February — compounded by frozen soil,” Loveland said. “There was no controlling it.”

Meltwater from middle- and high-elevation snowpack, however, finds its way into coulees, creeks and tributaries before reaching the lowlands and the Snake River, where streamflows are managed by the Bureau of Reclamation’s release of reservoir water.

River dams’ purpose are two-fold: water storage and flood control, he said.

“We usually don’t have to worry about flooding,” Loveland said Tuesday. “But we are releasing now to prevent flooding in the spring.”

It’s a balancing act, he said. The challenge is for the bureau to make space in reservoirs for potential floodwater without shorting water users later in the year.

“We have to watch the weather and watch the snowpack levels,” he said. “If the snow starts to melt fast, we need to be able to catch the melt and store that water (in the reservoirs).”

February’s snowfall was at least 150 percent of normal for all regions of Idaho, says the water supply report. Some areas received up to four times the average for the month.

A few basins close to home are pushing record snowpacks, Abramovich said. Flooding is still expected in the Big Wood River, Little Wood River and Big Lost River as temperatures rise.

While February’s flooding in the Magic Valley was a freak of nature, the deep snowpacks across the state are “extraordinary, but not historic,” Loveland said. “It’s not like we’ve never received something like this before.”


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