Idaho Water Supply Committee: Record-dry January, drought outlook ‘grim’

By Meredith Spelbring; East Idaho News

TWIN FALLS (KIVI) – After a near “perfect” start to the season, officials with the Idaho Water Supply Committee said a record-dry January and dry forecasts are not ideal for the widespread drought across Idaho.

Nearly 50% of Idaho is in drought conditions, with the remaining half of the state approaching drought conditions, according to David Hoekema with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. The fall of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 were “perfect” conditions from a water supply standpoint, but one of the driest 30-day streaks in January is causing concern.

“We are getting to a point we are probably going to start recommending an expansion of drought in Idaho if we don’t see the needed precipitation coming in,” said Hoekema.

As of Jan. 10, everywhere in Idaho was above 100% precipitation following a wet fall then December snowstorms allowed the snowpack to build up and “put us ahead,” according to NRCS Hydrologist Mark Robertson. January was “grim” across Idaho for snowpack numbers, with concern for snowpack levels in the Boise Basin.

But despite a dry January, Robertson said the year is shaping up to be similar to a La Nina year in 2009, where the state experienced a dry January and then picked back up in March. But at this point, statistics show there is only a 30% chance of ending the season with a normal snowpack.

The forecast for the upcoming weeks doesn’t paint a picture of the current conditions turning around. Troy Lindquist with the National Weather Service said wet weather is likely to make its way into Idaho next week, but will not bring much precipitation with it. Precipitation is expected to be normal to below-normal into the foreseeable future, Lindquist said. The three-month outlook shows a slight lean toward above-normal precipitation with a slight lean toward below normal temperatures in northern Idaho.

“(Models are) showing some improvement in drought conditions, but drought is persisting in the southern portion of the state,” Lindquist said. “I’m not very optimistic right now, I was feeling much more optimistic a few weeks ago.”

Predictions for the reservoir system outlook don’t look much different. Jeremy Dalling with the Bureau of Reclamation said the probability of filling the reservoir systems is low, barring a wet spring 2022. The Boise Basin-three reservoir system, if you add them all together, are 40% full. For the entire system, levels are 20% below where they typically would be for this time of year and 24% below where they were last year.

The long-range forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are below normal precipitation again next winter. Looking all the way into spring 2023, Idaho may still have below normal numbers, which could contribute to the multi-year drought many experts have feared.

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