Drought drastically cuts irrigation season for Idaho farmers

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Ongoing drought in Idaho will drastically shorten this year’s irrigation season for some farmers, officials said.

Farmers in south-central Idaho’s Wood River basin will face some of the biggest shortages, with an estimated 40 to 45 days before water from the Magic Reservoir runs out, according to David Stephenson, manager of Big Wood Canal Co. In a normal season, farmers might get water into late September.

Magic Reservoir, which supplies water to 36,000 acres of farmland, was only about a quarter full this year before dams were released last week, kicking off the season.

The reservoir holds water that flows through Big Wood River from melted snowfall in the mountains. The river is flowing at about 16% of its normal rate this year after record-low winter precipitation levels, Boise State Public Radio reported.

Prior to the winter, a dry summer and fall last year meant groundwater was already depleted as irrigators south of Bellevue pumped out of the aquifer, searching for any leftover moisture.

Carl Pendleton, a farmer who gets all of his water from Magic Reservoir, said the outlook is dismal.

“I sold my cow herd last week, the first time I’ve been out of livestock in my lifetime,” he said. “That’s the decisions we’re making based on this amount of water.”

The Idaho Department of Water Resources this spring could decide to curtail groundwater pumping to the north, which Pendleton said goes unchecked and exacerbates the shortages so that there isn’t enough to go around.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service said Lost River, parts of the Snake River and the Oakley and Salmon Falls reservoirs will also feel the effects of the drought.