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Idaho's Drought Plan as conditions continue to worsen; expert weighs in on impacts

Idaho's Drought Plan as drought conditions continue to climb, expert weighs in on impacts. (CBS2)
Idaho's Drought Plan as drought conditions continue to climb, expert weighs in on impacts. (CBS2)
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The Idaho Drought Plan provides current and historic information, guidance and framework for managing water shortage situations in the Gem State.

While comprehensive, this plan hasn't been updated in over 20 years.

"We are seeing an increase in population, one of the highest in the United States, as well as increasing drought conditions, asks CBS 2 reporter Sarah Jacobsen. "Can you tell me why this document hasn't been updated in 20 years?"

"Since the early 2000's we haven't had that kind of deep a level of drought, so there has been a lot of talk about updating the plan," explains Hydrologist David Hoekema.

David Hoekema is a hydrologist with the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the state drought coordinator and has been with the state for just shy of 10 years.

He says to understand the Idaho Drought Plan, you need a lesson in Idaho drought history, that begins with the year this document was created.

"The initial drought plan, to my knowledge, was initiated in 1977. Which is the driest year we've had on record," Hoekema explains. "And thankfully it was sandwiched in between a bunch of wet years but it really caused people a lot of concern. It's been termed the winter without snow and it really initiated drought planning and water resource planning especially in the drought realm for the state."

The plan was updated again in 1992 when significant drought conditions hit the Gem State once again.

"From a non-legal perspective the state got involved in a lot of mitigation during that time, including taking water trucks to certain communities to deliver water," Hoekema explains. "And it was pretty drastic and they allowed a lot of emergency wells to go in because people didn't have enough water to irrigate their crops. It was a really dramatic experience so the drought plan got updated again."

The most recent update came during a period of drought in the early 2000s.

"One of the basic things that came out of the plan was the Idaho Water Supply Committee," Hoekema said.

Every month from January through April the Idaho Water Supply Committee presents and discusses drought conditions across state and federal agencies, as well as other entities that are interested.

Including the Consolidated Farm Service Agency and the Idaho Power Company.

"And they get more interested the drier it gets," Hoekema explains.

Drought develops over time and these monthly discussions over Idaho's water supply are meant to bring collective awareness of our states water supply and drought conditions.

"And that way if we enter back into a major drought cycle we will be better prepared and be able to coordinate better with the governor's office to deal with drought as it develops," Hoekema explains.

The Idaho Water Committee also works with the National Integrated Drought Information System.

"They are developing a drought early warning system for the northwest," Hoekema explains.

Allowing for better coordination of drought conditions across state lines.

Here at home, our drought concerns Hoekema tells me are focused over the Big Wood reservoir, the Little Wood and the Big Lost reservoir, which all sit at below 35 percent of normal for the water year.

He tells me that storage water in the Big Lost basin is expected to run out in July or August and then consumers will rely on groundwater. And users at the end of the basin who rely on surface water may run up dry.

On the Big Wood River, there is outlook that the dam will run out of water at the end of July, possibly into mid-August.

"Without a wet spring they will certainly be short," Hoekema explains. "Overall, our water supply is just a little below average which most systems are set up for average to below-average situations."

Hoekema says that despite a dry spring, drought concerns right now, are low.

"We actually did really well last year," Hoekema explains. "So overall the water supply looks pretty good except for the Big Lost and Big Wood and then a number of the smaller systems coming out of the border areas of Idaho to Utah and Idaho to Nevada."

But there is concern for years going forward if these conditions persist.

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"They shouldn't have an issue this year," Hoekema explains. "But we could really see the aquifer decline drastically this year."

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