Drought concerns shut down water supply at Jensen Grove

Recreators are enjoying what little time they have left at Jensen Grove this summer. Due to drought conditions, the water flow into the lake was shut off this week and the water level is already decreasing. KENDRA EVENSEN / IDAHO STATE JOURNAL

Recreators are enjoying what little time they have left at Jensen Grove this summer. Due to drought conditions, the water flow into the lake was shut off this week and the water level is already decreasing. KENDRA EVENSEN / IDAHO STATE JOURNAL

By Kendra Evensen
kevensen@journalnet.com

It turns out swimmer’s itch isn’t the biggest concern at Jensen Grove in Blackfoot this year; it’s lack of water.

Russ Goodwin, parks foreman for the city, said they had to shut off the water supply to the lake this week due to drought conditions, and the water level is already dropping.

“If it was me, I wouldn’t be putting a boat in right now,” Goodwin said. “We’ve already lost three and a half to four feet of water in the lake.”

Still, numerous people were boating, jet skiing, wakeboarding and swimming at the lake on Wednesday evening — activities they won’t likely be able to enjoy for much longer.

“I think it’s sad,” said Blackfoot resident Helena Arreguin. “It’s so hot and there’s not a lot to do in Blackfoot.”

Because water is no longer flowing into the lake, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has issued a salvage order for the area.

Regional Conservation Educator Jennifer Jackson said the order allows people to catch and keep as many of the rainbow trout stocked in the lake as they can, by any means other than firearms, explosives, chemicals or electric current. (Those 14 and older must still have a fishing license.)

“This happens every single year,” Jackson said, but added that they don’t typically issue the order until closer to October.

Goodwin said the lack of water will likely hurt Blackfoot, not only through the loss of recreation fees, but also commerce. People from Pocatello and Idaho Falls typically visit the area during the summer months.

“It’s obviously an asset to have water in the lake,” Goodwin said. “Shutting it down early in the summer means we will lose a lot of boating, swimming and jet skiing up and down the valley.”

But the City of Blackfoot and local recreators aren’t the only ones being impacted by the lack of water.

At least 14 counties in the state, including Bear Lake, Bingham, Bonneville and Power counties, have issued drought emergency declarations this year, according to the Idaho Department of Water Resources’ website.

“In 2012 we had a really dry year and in 2013 we had a below-average winter,” said Lyle Swank, watermaster of Water District 1, which covers most of the Upper Snake River basin. “With below average precipitation and higher than average demand, we’re in a drought year, and a recent drought monitor survey indicated we’re in a severe drought.”

Mike Beus, water operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Snake River Field Office, said the Upper Snake system is currently 42 percent full with 1.75 million acre-feet of water in storage.

“That volume on July 24 would rank fifth lowest in the (nearly) 30-year period (1981 through 2010) that we presently consider ‘normal’,” Beus said, adding that the American Falls Reservoir is currently 29 percent full and Palisades is at 27 percent. “We are low and will be much lower by the end of the irrigation season.”

Beus said severe conservation measures are in place, but some irrigators are expected to run out of stored water soon. That’s one of the reasons why Snake River Valley Irrigation, which works with the City of Blackfoot to fill the lake at Jensen Grove, and others are conserving what water they do have right now.

The snowpack led to more optimistic streamflow forecasts earlier this year, Beus said, adding that some crops that were planted based on those predictions could suffer as a result.

“Irrigators are making some choices to move water to their highest value crops,” Beus said.