Water is on everyones mind these days. After one of the hottest, driest summers on record, we turn to the skies and wonder if Idaho will see a third straight year of near or above-normal snowpack. At Idaho Power, we know the importance of water, and we are committed to ensuring this precious resource is used wisely.
Water fuels Idahos agricultural engine, turning desert to fertile fields along the length of the Snake River Plain. It also produces more than half of the electricity used by Idaho Power customers, with the bulk of that hydropower generated by the 17 hydroelectric projects that our company operates on the Snake River and its tributaries.
Idaho Power recognizes its role as a steward of the Snake River and the water that powers the electrical grid in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. We collaborate with local, state and federal agencies to help ensure flows are sufficient to help satisfy the many users that share this increasingly scarce resource.
We also have an active cloud-seeding program designed to increase the amount of water in the river. This increases our ability to use clean, renewable and low-cost hydro generation. It also benefits watersheds, fish, wildlife, water quality, recreationists and farmers.
That program, which operates in the Payette River basin and in eastern Idaho, will expand this year. As the project grows over the next few years, we expect to put about 400,000 acre-feet of additional water in eastern Idaho watersheds and another 200,000 acre-feet in the Payette River basin each year.
Not all of that water will end up in the Snake River, but the extra volume that does make it through our hydro projects will generate an average 380,000 additional megawatt-hours per year. Thats the annual electrical usage for about 30,000 average-sized homes in our service area.
Managing water when nearly every drop has been spoken for takes coordination among a broad spectrum of users. In general, farmers get highest priority. After the last two winters, the Upper Snake basins have had more than enough water to satisfy farmers needs. When that happens, Idaho Power has the option to rent water and send it downstream at the time of greatest need.
In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation controls a vast amount of water that it sends downstream during the summer to maintain water conditions for fish and help young salmon on their way to the ocean.
Idaho Power works with the bureau and irrigation districts to maximize the amount of electricity we can generate with our hydro facilities, within operational guidelines.
Of course, surface water is only part of the story. Many eastern Idaho farmers rely on the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer to irrigate their crops. Idaho Power supports efforts by the Idaho Department of Water Resources to help farmers install more water-efficient equipment that allows them to maintain crop yields with less water.
The future of that aquifer is important to all Idahoans. Thats why Idaho Power is working closely with the IDWR to drill monitoring wells in order to gather data about groundwater in the Hagerman area, where much of that water flows into the Snake River through springs.
As part of the recent reaffirmation of the landmark 1984 Swan Falls Agreement, Idaho Power supports aquifer recharge under the guidelines established by the states Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan (CAMP). Eastern Idaho irrigators can divert excess Snake River water in canals, allowing it to seep into the aquifer, which has been declining in recent decades.
Idaho Power will continue to work with the CAMP, along with the Upper Snake Rental Pool Committee, the Upper Snake Advisory Committee, Water District One Advisory Committee and other groups committed to wise water use to preserve one of Idahos most valuable resources for generations to come.
Roger Fuhrman is the manager of Idaho Powers Water Management department.