Drought, anyone? 

Well, most of us–those who didn’t escape to the ocean or the mountains–survived 17 days of 100 degree weather this summer. I’m not sure that’s a record, but an internet search did reveal that in the 50 years between 1940 and 1990, Idaho had only four years with 10 days or more over 100 F. 

We’ve had 15 such years since 2000. 

Still, we’re better prepared for such weather than the West Coast that was when they were hit with temperatures 30 degrees higher than normal in late June. Oregon and Washington each had nearly 100 deaths from heat stroke, but a new report last week revealed there were 400 additional excessive deaths. The heat possibly  made some existing medical conditions fatal.  

And the latest U.N. climate report makes it clear that we can expect about the same or worse for the next 30 years. Carbon dioxide lasts a long time in the atmosphere so if we cut emissions today it’ll be a couple decades before we see results. 

So far southwestern Idaho has had a better-than-average fire year. That’s not true for northern Idaho where eight complexes are burning. Nor for California where, by last Thursday, the Dixie Fire had burned 780 square miles, including 500 homes. 

And that’s dwarfed by a fire in Siberia which has burned 19,300 square miles.  It’s estimated that fire has added over 500 megatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. If all Idahoans stopped driving tomorrow, we probably couldn’t offset a fire that huge in a century.    

No, this year Idaho hasn’t gotten the worst of the heat or the wildfires. But we’ve had a reminder that in the long run drought is our curse.  

The Idaho Department of Water Resources has declared water emergencies in 18 counties this year. That follows six in 2020 and zero for the three previous years. From 2012 to 2016, however, we had a continuous drought. . 

Low river levels mean irrigation water is being turned off in much of the valley a month early. Low groundwater levels are causing shallow wells to go dry in southwest Ada County and south of Lake Lowell. Waiting times to deepen a well or drill a new one are eight months or more. 

These are old problems in Magic Valley, but relatively new here. What can be done?

The IDWR is working on plans to raise the height of Anderson Ranch Dam six feet. This means an increase of 29,000 acre-feet of water, adding 7% to the dam’s current capacity.  The cost is estimated at $85 million. 

The main problem, however, is that the project will make absolutely no difference in a true drought year when there is no extra water to capture.  

There is also a study underway to develop a groundwater-flow model for the Treasure Valley. This would make it possible to predict the outcome of injecting water in various places.

Again, in a drought year there may be no water to inject.

Before long, water will likely be both harder to get and more expensive before long. 

This week I looked into possible ways to save money–and help our farms–cutting water use.

Harvesting rainwater is more involved than I expected unless you plan on growing lots of mosquitoes, but it’s probably worth the time and money. 

The shade from trees can cut evaporation. The deep roots of trees mean better tolerance for dry periods. 

And we should replace plants that need lots of water–including grass lawns–with ones that don’t.  

It won’t be easy–my hydrangeas bloomed for the first time this year.  

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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