TWIN FALLS — Last winter’s erratic weather made life difficult for southern Idaho residents, but the Magic Valley is still reaping benefits from the abundance of moisture that fell from the skies.
The last water year was one of the best in the past decades, and carryover left in reservoirs at the end of the irrigation season remains high.
The Upper Snake Basin system is 75 percent full and reservoir levels are 180 percent of the 30-year average, said Corey Loveland, water operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation in Heyburn.
“The dams are quite a bit higher than what we’re used to seeing,” Loveland said. Dams in the Upper Snake Basin include Jackson, Palisades, Island Park, Rirey, Minidoka, Milner, Little Wood and American Falls. Previous good years included 1986, ‘97 and 2011, he said.
Water managers track moisture levels from Oct. 1 — the end of the irrigation season — through the spring and into the growing season.
Even the Salmon Tract, notorious for water shortages, is in excellent shape going into the 2017-18 water year.
“It was a good year,” Karl Joslin, Salmon River Canal Co. board president, said Tuesday. “We had a full allotment.”
A full allotment promises farmers can stay in their normal crop rotation, and not have to rely on short-water crops like barley. Joslin will be growing corn silage, alfalfa and dry beans next year.
Last winter brought an abundance of snow to southern Idaho.
“We got a great start to the water year in October (2016),” said Stephen Parker, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boise. Twin Falls received 2.78 inches of precipitation that month, nearly 2 inches more than normal, followed by a warm and dry November. The winter continued to be wet through March.
Snow and cold were followed by rain and flooding this winter, creating havoc for motorists and homeowners, and livestock and roadways suffered.
For the water year, Twin Falls received nearly 15 inches of rain.
“Anytime we can start with this much water,” Joslin said Wednesday, “we are fortunate.”
The reservoirs won’t be able to store all the water that flows into them, said Brian Olmstead, Twin Falls Canal Co. general manager. Water manager need to save room behind the dams for flood control.
Aquifer recharge efforts in the off season have been successful, Olmstead said. Recharge will continue this winter at Murtaugh Lake, milepost 31 on the Milner-Gooding Canal, North Side Canal, and Southwest Irrigation District.
“It looks like the springs are starting to respond,” he said. “It’s a good start with the agreement with the groundwater users — that keeps everybody optimistic.”
“We know now we can make plans. We know the water is there,” Joslin said. “We’re happy to be on this side of the equation.”