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Economic and dam related articles

D-A-M Spells Drought Relief

by Frank Priestley
Idaho Farm Bureau News, August, 2001

Precipitation statistics collected over the past 50 years show that southern Idaho has been drought stricken as much or more than any other region in the continental U.S. That shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, we live in a desert.

What is surprising is how fast our state is growing. Idaho's population, now 1.2 million, has increased by 28.1 percent since 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of that growth has been in and around our urban centers. For example, Ada County's population has increased by 46 percent in that ten-year span. Growth in most rural counties has been more modest ranging from 6 percent in Power County, 9.6 percent in Cassia County, 11 percent in Bingham County and 18.5 percent in Boundary County.

It's a stretch to draw too many specific conclusions from census data, but at least one thing is certain. As population continues to increase at a breakneck pace all over the West, the need for water is increasing as well. And during summers like this the ability to store more water would help alleviate a lot of drought related problems.

Althoug it's happened fairly quietly, there have been well over 100 small dams constructed in Idaho since the Teton Dam disaster on June 5, 1976. And several more sites both in-stream and off-stream with the potential to store water have been identified all over the state. We believe it's time to look at increasing Idaho's water storage capacity.

By the time the current water year ends on September 30, our reservoirs will be nearly depleted. Without a better than average winter, those reservoirs will not refill and the drought pattern that began during the winter of 1999-2000 will continue. Drought also affects the massive underground aquifer that runs roughly from nrthwest of Idaho Falls to Thousand Springs near Buhl. Consecutive low precipitation years cause the aquifer level to drop, which affects not only agriculture and municipal water supplies but also dries up the springs, seeps and natural wetlands that wildlife depend on.

While building dams and other projects that significantly alter the landscape is often controversial, its also unwise to ignore the writing on the wall. Although new dams have the potential to impact fish and wildlife and change land use and transportation, they also create new recreation jobs, clean hydro power and can be used to help fight wildfires. Additional off-stream storage water could also be used to help restore endangered fish populations.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that it's far better to dare mighty things, to win great triumphs even though checked by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they llive in the gray twilight that knows victory nor defeat.

We agree with TR. Things that are worthwhile rarely come easily and we welcome the opinions of those who disagree. That's how democracy works.

But all controversy aside, Idaho's water needs are not likely to decline anytime soon. We believe it's time to take a hard look at increasing our state's wate storage capacity in order to meet our future needs.

Frank Priestley, IFBF President
D-A-M Spells Drought Relief
Idaho Farm Bureau News - page 2, August, 2001

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