Updated: Jul 21
Earlier this week, irrigation water turned off for the season and many farmers heaved a sigh of relief and gave thanks for existing water reservoirs. Simultaneously, many agriculturalists wish for more water, in preparation for years like 2022.
Entering the 2022 growing season, the water situation in the Western States was dire. After multiple years of short rainfall, most reservoirs had exhausted long-term storage amounts and only partial water allotments were scheduled, meaning less available water over a shorter season.
Accordingly, farmers made necessary preparations. Planting choices changed to more drought tolerant crops and shorter day varieties, fields were left fallow allowing farmers to transfer water rights to higher value crops, and water efficient systems were installed. Despite, high commodity prices, many farmers were predicting lower incomes. The long-term outlook was also pessimistic, the predicted La Nina winter for 2022-23 meant drier weather for the southwestern states.
Though months later than average, the wet weather arrived. Multiple reservoirs and regions received rainfall that restored allotments to their full amount and extended the growing season. Though crops were already planted, farmers benefited from the moisture, with increased yields and incomes for 2022. For less fortunate farmers, Mother Nature missed their watersheds, or reservoirs lacked capacity to capture the rainfall.
Years like 2022, reaffirm the need to increase water storage, benefitting farmers and the surrounding communities. In Idaho State, water storage is an issue the legislature tackled in the last session. The Idaho legislature voted to appropriate funds to increase the capacity of the Anderson Ranch Dam, providing an additional 29,000 acre feet. Much of this will be used to meet growing population demands in the Treasure Valley, and leaves water available for farmers.
In the western states, increasing water availability is essential to protecting the agricultural community and the food supply. Idaho and Utah are having this conversation, but Washington and Oregon are moving in the opposite direction with dam removal a frequent topic.
Increasing storage, encouraging water conservation technologies, and prioritizing agricultural water rights are essential to protecting the region's agriculture and the food we produce. Including these agricultural water topics in the upcoming legislative sessions prioritizes the region’s farming community and helps buffer farmers in years like 2022.