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Wet weather helps water supply

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

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Keeping water in reservoir complicated

Mike Beus, a water operations manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, showed just how complicated water management can be at a public meeting hosted by the bureau in American Falls on Monday, May 18.

Up through January, the snowpack looked adequate. But a dry March, and early irrigation by many local farmers, had the water situation looking bleak until the rainfall of the last few weeks, he said. All that is complicated by last year's system, which left a wet snowpack that took its time melting, giving the reservoirs an inefficient resource as the system recovered from a dry year two years ago.

"Two years ago, we got fairly low with our carryover storage," Beus said.

The snowpack this year is melting earlier than average, and earlier than in 2010, another significant water year, he added. And the early irrigation this year that came with the warm weather was unanticipated, he said. The reservoir lost 20,000 cubic water feet in one day meeting early irrigation demands.

"Over 20,000 cfs in one day. That doesn't happen," Beus said. However, the water situation is much better after recent rainfall he said, mostly because the demand for irrigation diminished.

Keeping the American Falls Reservoir full enough to not stir up dirt is a significant problem, Beus said, and that remained a topic of discussion for most of the meeting. When water is moved down to the bottom of the local water system, which is the American Falls Reservoir, people want to know why it couldn't have been moved sooner, he said. But Jackson Lake, at the top of the system, takes a long time to fill, and the bureau has to hold water there for senior water right users, Beus said.

"We do have to keep water upstream from where it needs to be delivered," he said.

Roland Springer, the upper Snake River field office manager, added that a common concern is that the bureau is holding more water at Jackson Lake for recreational use, but that is not why they hold onto more water there, he said.

They are moving some water from Palisades Reservoir to American Falls to meet water demands, Beus said, and to help cutthroat trout, who's mating is spurred by the flood.

The meeting was part of a new strategy on the part of the bureau to communicate better with local communities. They are also communicating better with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, who fined the bureau in 2007 after low water stirred up sediment and decreased water quality in the American Falls Reservoir.

"We are doing what we can to move the water down to meet all the storage and water rights issues we have already," said Clyde Lay, a regional water quality coordinator with the bureau.

Moving water around too fast can cause issues down the road, Beus said.

"It may not affect us in the current year, but it can have profound effect in the subsequent years," Beus said, adding that holding water in the American Falls Reservoir also causes trouble with water users downstream who need the water for irrigation and fish production.

Lay is researching at what point the sediment in the reservoir increases as the water in the reservoir decreases. Wind can also have an effect on sediment in the water and water quality, he said. They are looking for efficiency in handling the water that could allow them to keep more water in the reservoir. There may be ways of keeping more water in the reservoir, like releasing more water from Lake Walcott later on to satisfy demand downstream, but that will require more research, Lay said.

The bureau has tried to keep 50,000 cubic feet in the reservoir to improve water quality, though acknowledging having 100,000 is better. At its lowest, the reservoir only has 25,000 cubic feet of water.

Dave Teuscher, with Idaho Fish and Game, said that water quality affects the number of fish in the reservoir as well.

"We just know when it gets really bad we see dead fish," he said.

Beus speculated that, with the current rain, the reservoir may stay over 100,000 cubic feet, but there was no way to know for sure.

The bureau keeps a website with information on the quality of water in the reservoir. That information will be updated more often with the number of hits the website gets, he said. The website is

According to the website, as of press time, the reservoir is 79 percent full with 132,000 cubic feet of water.

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Original Publication Date: June 3, 2015

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