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Aberdeen, Idaho irrigation company plans for tight water supply

By JOHN O’CONNELL, Capital Press

ABERDEEN, Idaho — Growers with Southeast Idaho’s Aberdeen-Springfield Canal Co. will soon exhaust their share of natural flows in the Upper Snake River about a month ahead of normal, and will then have just 48 percent of their typical reservoir storage.

To help his 400 water users covering 62,000 acres get the most of a meager water supply and finish irrigating high-value crops this season, the company’s general manager, Steve Howser, has devised a multi-faceted approach he said will require members to sacrifice and cooperate.

He aims to buy an extra two or three weeks of irrigation time, but unseasonably hot weather has added to his challenges.

“Over the last couple of days we set high temperature records that were 20 degrees above normal, which is not helping,” Howser said.

He’s asked Power and Bingham county commissioners to request drought emergency declarations, enabling growers to expedite emergency water rights transfers.

A few of his growers hope to use well water to finish some fields that would normally be irrigated with surface water. Howser plans to offer company resources to defray their added pumping costs, on a case-by-case basis.

Grower Klaren Koompin, one of the growers willing to switch to well water for some surface-irrigated crops, considers it a way extend canal water for those who don’t have the choice.

“When you have to shut the water off in September, it pretty well screws up your sugar beet crop,” Koompin said. “If we start working on it now, we’ll be able to hold more in storage and extend the irrigation season.”

Grower Jim Tiede intends to stop watering his wheat about a week earlier than normal and to dig his potatoes served by canal water first. Howser also asked Amalgamated Sugar to prioritize his growers for its early beet harvest.

Howser aims to reduce unused water leaving his canal system by 75 percent.

“I can come pretty close to running the system with no spill. That saves me 10,000 to 12,000 acre-feet over the next month or two,” Howser said, adding improved automation in his system should help. “The down side is there is no quick response.”

His plan allows irrigators to water their crops for six consecutive days before pumps are shut off. Growers will then wait until deliveries are made to others within their individual canal segment, monitored by the same “ditch rider.” Howser anticipates growers could be dry ranging from a day or two to four days in hay-intensive areas.

By “managing demand instead of meeting demand,” a strategy that worked effectively during a dry 2003 season, Howser said he’ll limit growers to 62.5 percent of their normal water consumption.

Typically, Howser’s staff members adjust head gates once a day, allowing water to flow through a head gate unused until the next day if irrigation finishes after the adjustment is made. To limit that loss, his staff will be working extra hours and making adjustments twice each day. Howser reasons he has more money in his overtime budget than water.

He’s supplying devices intended to monitor and improve flow efficiency for growers with storage ponds. He’s also requesting 15,000 acre feet of supplemental water from the District 1 rental pool and may pursue additional private rental water.

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