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Worst drought ever


Another week, another apocalyptic forecast about Idaho's impending drought. The latest revelation comes from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, in a cheerful report titled "Outlook is Grim." According to a meeting of the Idaho Water Supply Committee, a large group of key private, state and federal agencies, some of the latest dire omens for 2005 include:

• Boise's first three months of 2005 will almost definitely finish as the driest of any year on record.

• The Upper Snake River may only reach 60 percent of capacity this year.

• The inflow to Brownlee Reservoir on the Snake River is expected to be just 30 percent of normal. Nearly two-thirds of Idaho Power's hydroelectricity is produced at the three-dam Hells Canyon complex just downriver from Brownlee.

• The New York Canal, which runs along the Treasure Valley from east of Boise to Lake Lowell south of Nampa, could be shout off two months early by mid August.

• Snow measurements in the Clearwater and St. Joe's River basins are the lowest ever recorded.

In the face of such piddly puddling, Idaho's beleagured energy and water magnates took no time responding with pleas for rate-hikes. Idaho Power struck first, filing an application with the Public Utilities Commission on March 3 to fund a $58 million natural gas-fired power plant near Mountain Home with increased power rates. Their request would mean a 2.6 percent increase for all Idaho customers, effective June 1. Not to be outdone, United Water announced on March 10 that they will ask the Public Utilities Commission to allow a 21.46 percent increase in rates to approximately 75,000 customers in Ada and Canyon counties. The company cited increasing demand and dwindling groundwater for their request, which will face a public hearing in late May.

But the madness doesn't end there. On March 11, the IDWR issued stern warnings to Idaho irrigators not to begin using water earlier than legally allowed. The penalties for early water usage, the department threatens, could range up to $300 per acre, as well as significant fines for unauthorized diversions of water for non-irrigation uses. Just a reminder, farmers, you're being watched.