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Farmers feel ripple effect of state's diminishing water supply

By Kaitlin Loukides
Published On: Aug 07 2013 08:31:34 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 08 2013 11:57:53 AM CDT
POCATELLO, Idaho -

The state's water resources are running dry.

This week the Idaho Water Resource Board is meeting to discuss ways to prevent a water shortage crisis from hitting the state.

On Tuesday the board met with the Natural Resource Committee in Boise over its concern over the lack of water in the state before speaking with Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to discuss coming up with a program to study the sustainability of water.

Board Chairman Roger Chase said the diminishing water supply is a huge issue in southern Idaho since the state might have to face cutting off some of the water supply for farmers. If this happens, the potato and sugar beet crops could be impacted the most.

This could also be disastrous for the economy as well, he said.

"Those are two of the most important commodities we produce in this area and if the farmers do well, car salesmen do well, and grocery stores do well," Chase said. "It is really a tough situation for us, and we are hoping for moisture, and the outlook is not good."

Chase said this year, Idaho only saw a total of 12-inches of moisture. This is so low, even the American Falls Reservoir is down by 20 percent since the previous year.

Some of the options the board is discussing with the state are building a new water storage location, raising the dam or finding ways to add excess water to the reserve aquifer sitting below southeast Idaho.

On Thursday, the board will head to the Henry's Fork, where members will look at potential sites to see if it can expand one of the reservoirs up there.

Chase said there are some towns in Idaho that are at their threshold with how much water they could use. If they exceed that amount, they would most likely have to borrow from other cities, or take from the aquifer's reserve supply.

Irrigation districts are even now starting to shut off, so farmers' production is already down for a lot of cities.

According to Chase, the water supply in the Lake Erie-sized aquifer has been diminishing significantly over the years, making it more expensive to drill down and tap into that resource.

Raymond Matsuura is a potato farmer in Blackfoot who said his production is down this year as well due to the drought-like conditions.

He said he and some of his farming colleagues are creating a system called "precision speed variable irrigation" to try to help conserve water.

Basically, this system uses a device which is placed on the pivot, which could then tell how much water should be dispersed and where, taking into account the type of soil being used.

So far, Matsuura said, this is in its beginning trial stage, but an effort to save water nonetheless.

Chase said this is the worst drought Idaho has seen in decades, and the important point for people to note is to just be more conscious when using water, while trying to conserve as much as possible.

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