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Dry winter predictions cause water concerns

By By Marissa Bodnar, Reporter
Published On: Sep 17 2012 11:35:24 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 18 2012 12:11:57 AM CDT

A long, hot summer and unexpectedly high demand have left eastern Idaho's water supply low.

SWAN VALLEY, Idaho -

A long, hot summer and unexpectedly high demand have left eastern Idaho's water supply low, but officials with the Bureau of Reclamation said it's not cause for concern...yet.

What to watch out for, they said, is winter because it will dictate water supply come spring.

As summer fades into fall, the falls aren't quite as full and parts of Palisades reservoir look more like a beach at low tide.

"We're at 32 percent of capacity, which is well below average and it's pretty low for getting here from a pretty full system last spring," said Mike Beus, water operations manager with the Bureau of Reclamation. "But it's not that unusual."

Still, it was a little unexpected.

Beus said last year's snowfall was 80 percent of average, so they didn't anticipate using this much water from storage. Now, storage is a balancing act between reservoirs: Palisades, which is currently at 17 percent capacity, and American Falls, at 10 percent.

"Usually 80 percent will get us by year after year, but after this year we have to question that," said Beus. "It would sure be nice if we got closer to average or maybe a little bit higher than average."

Beus said Palisades hasn't been lower than this since 2007. He said dry in Idaho is normal, but this summer's demand can't be met two years in a row.

So what kind of winter season are we expecting?

"It doesn't look good because we are looking at the national forecast for this predicted winter and we are starting to see, dare I say, El Nino," said First Alert's Chief Meteorologist Michael Coats.

Coats said that means warming along the equator near South America, which impacts the weather in Idaho. California and Arizona get wet, he said, while the Gem state stays dry.

"If I'm in the water business, I'd be very nervous. If I'm a farmer, I'd be very nervous about this winter," said Coats. "I don't think we're going to get the massive snow storms in our mountains that really add to the snow pack."

Beus said after heavy snow and rain in 2011, many may be thinking of that as normal. So, he said, when we have an average year, like 2012, it seems drier than it actually is.

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