Drought

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

For the first time since 2011, the Pacific Northwest isn't showing any signs of drought.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that Oregon, Washington and Idaho are free from drought worries.

Kathie Dello, deputy director of Oregon's climate office, says the Northwest saw lots of precipitation during the water year that began in October.

She says snow and rain came earlier and stayed later. Typically drier months such as October, February, March and April were wetter than usual across the region.

Bogus Basin Recreation Area

The far western United States set records for low snowpack levels in 2015, and a new report blames high temperatures rather than low precipitation levels.

The new study suggests greenhouse gases were a major contributor to the high temperatures. The study was published Monday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Screengrab USDA.gov

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, four Idaho counties are in a state of disaster because of drought. The counties are Canyon, Owyhee, Payette and Washington. Farmers and ranchers there and in any adjacent counties can get federal money to help them through the year if they can prove the drought is hurting their production.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Water experts from around Idaho gathered in Boise earlier this month to brief one another on 2016 forecasts. A slide during a presentation by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) water supply specialist Ron Abramovich solidified a recurring theme: "think snow."

According to this week's forecast, southern Idaho will be not just thinking snow — but experiencing it.

So how do things look so far when it comes to that precious precipitation?

USGS Idaho

It is common knowledge that the drought this year was pretty bad. But just how intense was it, and what can we learn about it for future water supply shortages? These are some of the questions scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey across the West are asking. They are studying streams and rivers in six states, including Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Chris Willey / Flickr Creative Commons

The migration of sockeye salmon from the ocean to inland parts of the Northwest has been deadly this year. Hotter than normal temperatures early in the summer warmed up low-flowing rivers, and more than a quarter million sockeye are dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

But Idaho Fish and Game biologist Mike Peterson says the conditions are allowing scientists to observe just how resilient salmon can be in warmer water.

Don Barrett / Flickr Creative Commons

Southwest Idaho stands out in bright red on the most recent drought map. The color signifies the area is in extreme drought. Jay Chamberlin of the Owyhee Irrigation District says that's not surprising, given the lack of snowpack last winter.

Federal officials say that more than 90 percent of Idaho's counties have either been declared natural disaster areas or are bordering disaster areas because of prolonged drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Benewah, Bonner, Clearwater, Kootenai and Latah counties as the most recent regions to qualify as primary natural disaster areas.

The declaration means farmers and ranchers in those counties are eligible to apply for low interest federal emergency loans. Eligibility is open for eight months from the date of the declaration.

Tristan Buckner / Flickr Creative Commons

The drought is killing wheat crops in a northern Idaho county where commissioners declared a state of emergency.

The Lewiston Tribune reports some Clearwater County farmers have seen drought conditions eliminate almost two-thirds of this year's crops.

Commission Chairman Don Ebert says recent rains were too late to save wheat crops, and that harvests are down 40 percent.

The National Weather Service forecasts more rain this week, but not enough to end drought conditions.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is playing host to nine other Western states' governors and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to try to reach a consensus on regionwide issues such as drought.

Sandoval chairs the Western Governors' Association, which is holding its annual meeting in Lake Tahoe from Wednesday to Friday.

The governors will tackle a number of topics throughout the three days, including a newly released report detailing best practices for states to mitigate the effects of drought.

Andrew W. Sieber / Flickr

Despite one of the worst drought years on record, hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest should not see their operations disrupted too much this summer.

That's what the Northwest Power and Conservation Council was told at a meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Wednesday.

Water through the dams in the Columbia River Basin this summer is projected to be only about 71 percent of average, triggering dry year operation protocols for the dams.

Sally Jewell, sage grouse
Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise says a wet spring reduced the likelihood of wildfires during June over much of the nation, but the risk is above normal in drought-stricken California.

Hawaii and parts of the Southwest and Alaska are also at above-normal risk.

As the summer progresses, fire danger is expected to increase in the Northwest, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will discuss wildfire threats and the nationwide outlook for the wildfire season Tuesday in Denver.

Aidan Wakely-Mulroney / Flickr Creative Commons

According to a United States Drought Monitor report, all of Idaho is now in a drought or heading into a drought.

The Idaho Statesman reports that the new statistics are in stark contrast to May 2014, when the drought monitoring website reported only 52 percent of the state was under some sort of drought condition.

U.S. Geological Survey spokesman Tim Merrick says most of Owyhee County is experiencing extreme drought and the Coeur d'Alene basin is at historic lows.

ironpoison / Flickr

Farmers and ranchers in the West's worst-hit drought regions will receive an additional $21 million to help them save water and soil despite the long dry spell.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the aid Monday. The assistance will go to areas of the West that are rated in the highest categories of drought. That includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah.

The aid is meant to help farms and grazing pastures cope with drought through better irrigation, cover crops and other measures.

The Roza Irrigation District in Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley is shutting off the water for two weeks because of drought. About a billion dollars in crops are on the line.

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