So far so good: Water outlook looks promising

By Hannah Ashton; Citizen Tribune

Water experts are cautiously optimistic about the 2022 water year.

As of Jan. 1, nearly the entire state has seen above-normal snow water equivalent, which describes the amount of water in the snowpack if it was melted, said Daniel Tappa, hydrologist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The new water year started Oct. 1.

Many of the basins across the state have a buffer, meaning they have a higher snow water equivalent than the same time last year, Tappa said during the Idaho Water Supply Committee meeting on Thursday.

Soil moisture is another check in the positive column. Across the state, soil moisture is high due to warmer than normal temperatures in November. Moist soils mean the ground won’t absorb all the water from snowmelt during the spring, leaving more to replenish reservoirs.

Good news aside, no one is celebrating just yet. The 2021 water year was proof that things can change quickly.

“We were doing OK (last year) till March then it seemed like the snow machine turned off,” said Link Crawford, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello.

As the spring went on, Idaho saw little precipitation. Record-setting temperatures and a historic heatwave compounded the situation and created an exceptional drought, a term used to describe an event that occurs once every 50 to 100 years.

The next three months show an equal chance of precipitation for southern Idaho and above normal for central and northern Idaho, according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

Idaho needs at least 135% of normal precipitation to end drought conditions by April 1, according to the outlook report.

The report says it is more likely conditions will improve but not completely resolve.

Courtesy of Natural Resource Conservation Service

The primary concern for the upcoming growing season is low reservoir carryover storage, said Corey Loveland, Idaho NRCS snow survey supervisor.

“Carryover storage was well below normal in all major reservoir systems across the region,” Loveland said in a press release. “Although reservoir storage continues to increase, we will need an above average snowpack to fill reservoirs this spring.”

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