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Idaho Drought: High and Dry

Boise • Most of Idaho is now in drought, according to federal agencies, but only extreme Southern Idaho is in the same boat as California and other western states. But next year could be grim if Idaho depletes the cushion in its reservoirs.

Ron Abramovich usually dons snowshoes to walk through three feet of snow and more to measure the season-ending snowpack at 6,100-foot-high More’s Creek Summit east of Idaho City.

This year, the trek to the measuring site was over scant snow. Abramovich, last week in his snowshoes, had to climb over fallen branches, across flowing streams and over dry topsoil.

“It looked like June 1st instead of May 1st,” said Abramovich, water supply specialist for the U.S. Conservation Service.

He measured 14 inches of snow, with a water content of 5.9 inches, the fourth-lowest since agencies began measuring in 1940. Only the drought years of 1977, 1987 and 1992 were worse.

Most of Idaho is now in drought, according to federal agencies. But only extreme Southern Idaho is in the same boat as California, other southwest states and neighboring Oregon and Washington. California is suffering its fourth year of drought, with reservoirs and river flows low and state officials declaring a crisis that touches the lives of nearly every resident.

But in Idaho, most residents and even farmers will feel only minor effects this year, despite an unsually low snowpack and early runoff. That’s because last year most of the state had a higher-than-average snowpack and reservoirs ended the year full enough to carry most farmers through this year’s growing season.

Still, Idaho Power Co., which generates its cheapest power from hydroelectric dams, will have to go more often to more expensive sources of electricity.

“Its going to be a tight year,” said Kresta Davis-Butts, an Idaho Power hydrologist.

If it stays dry and the snowpack next winter doesn’t refill the reservoirs, Idaho’s water situation could turn grim. Already this year, senior water users in the Magic Valley, who get their water directly from rivers or springs, have demanded that users who get their water by pumping it from the ground give them 89,000 acre-feet of water or leave some lands idle.

Disappointing End to Winter

Idaho started the winter with a promising snowpack throughout the Upper Snake River Valley west to the Boise Basin. But a band of unusually warm Pacific waters from Mexico to Canada that was bringing almost no snowpack to California, Oregon and Washington, spread to Southern Idaho.

Last year a “blob” of warm water, as scientists called it, showed up off the coast of Alaska. This year, the entire Pacific coast has turned warm, with Seattle almost six degrees above average. Lower snowpack is a continuation of a trend that climate scientists have seen for several decades in the Pacific Northwest, with earlier runoffs and lower river flows later in the year.

By March, nearly all of Idaho was feeling the effect of the warm, dry winter. Southern Idaho’s snowpack peaked, with lower- to middle-elevation snowpacks melting and runoff beginning early. By April, Treasure Valley farmers were scrambling to adjust to drought conditions even though Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock and Lucky Peak reservoirs levels are at 80 to 93 percent of average.

“I refer to the snowpack as our fourth reservoir,” said Rex Barrie, Water District 63 watermaster in Star, the man who ensures water goes to the right users. “It’s only at 40 percent of average.”

And it’s worse as you move south. The Bruneau River watershed has had the lowest three-year period of precipitation since 1944. This year will be its fourth year of drought. To the West, Owyhee Reservoir is at 26 percent full, with most of its runoff done.

The same weather pattern that carried the warm dry conditions from California to the Bruneau reaches up to Idaho’s Wood River and Lost River basins, Abramovich said. Luckily, watersheds along the Continental Divide, such as the Salmon and Clearwater, caught some of the snowstorms that came out of Canada and covered Montana and points east and are in better shape.

Groundwater Compounds Problem

What sets this drought apart from 1992 and before is what now water managers now know about the aquifer. Levels have dropped an average of 200,000 acre-feet annually in the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer, a Lake Erie-sized underground reservoir that stretches from Ashton in the east to King Hill near Glenns Ferry. Those levels peaked in the 1950s, dropping since in part due to changes from flood irrigation to sprinklers – which seeps less water back into the aquifer – and to the rise in groundwater pumping for farming.

The drop in flows can be seen on the Snake River at Murphy, just below Swan Falls Dam. A 1980s agreement between Idaho and Idaho Power set minimum streamflows for power at 3,900 cubic feet per second during irrigation season and 5,600 cfs in the winter.

The winter flows dropped below the minimum for one day this year. Flows skate near the summer minimum nearly every year, said Brian Patten, chief of the Idaho Department of Water Resources Planning Bureau.

To combat this drop, The Idaho Water Board began full-scale operations to recharge the aquifer, sending water down several canals this winter so it would seep into the groundwater. The state was able to put 75,000 acre-feet back into the aquifer.

Eventually it hopes to put as much as 250,000 acre-feet into the aquifer, to rebuild the natural spring flows that help fill the Snake. But Idaho may one day be forced to dry up acres of farmland that have the most junior water rights to meet the demands of those with more senior rights.

In April, Magic Valley canal companies and the farmers they serve demanded 89,000 acre-feet of water to make up for their loss they say was caused by groundwater pumping, which reduced spring flows into the Snake River from Blackfoot to the Minidoka Dam. Groundwater users are negotiating in hopes of reaching a long term agreement.


Volunteers Pick up Trash Dumped Illegally on Public Lands

JEROME • More than 60 volunteers spent hours Saturday picking up broken pieces of concrete, tree trimmings and shotgun shells.

For the outdoor recreationalists, clearing illegally dumped trash on public lands isn’t something they do just once a year.

“We’re always cleaning up when we’re recreating,” said Greg Moore, vice president of Southern Idaho Off-Road Association.

Volunteers spent the day picking up trash on the Snake River Canyon’s north rim in Jerome County.

It was the 16th annual cleanup day, organized by the Bureau of Land Management’s Twin Falls district office, Southern Idaho Off-Road Association, Backcountry Horsemen of Idaho, Magic Valley ATV Club and Jerome County.

The area has been used as a dumping ground for decades, Moore said. Some people are trying to avoid paying a fee at a transfer station.

“In the past, we’ve found refrigerators,” he said, as well as cars.

But for several years, they’ve been finding smaller items — yard trash and discarded construction materials.

“There’s not as many big items as there used to be,” said Nathan Jayo, park ranger for the BLM.

At the first cleanup event in 1999, the group hauled out 99 tons of trash. Last year, they collected seven-and-a-half tons.

Two giant red dumpsters were placed on a dirt lot Saturday, with several loaders parked nearby.

As volunteers gathered, cars zoomed along Highway 93 just past the Perrine Bridge.

Jerome County allocates money for the cleanup event in their annual budget.

They’re particularly concerned with the shooting areas, which are “eyesores” due to trash and shells left behind, Moore said.

Every year, volunteers typically pick up dozens of shotgun shells and aluminum beer cans.

Volunteers took off in their cars and ATVs, spreading out for miles to pick up trash strewn over the sagebrush and rock-covered desert landscape.

Nearby, birds soared over the Snake River Canyon. Occasionally, sunlight burst through dark clouds.

Volunteers used loaders to pick up larger items, while others picked up trash by hand.

A handful of local companies donated equipment for the cleanup day, such as loaders and portable toilets.

It would cost about $550 to rent a loader without the donation, Moore said.

Businesses also donated food and beverages, such as eight dozen donuts and coffee for breakfast.

Volunteers took a pizza break around lunchtime and planned to wrap up the cleanup day around 3 p.m.

Outdoor recreation groups teamed up for the event. Many of Southern Idaho Off-Road Association’s 21 members participated.

But they rely on help from larger groups — such as the Magic Valley ATV club, which has about 300 members.

Moore said he wishes they didn’t have to clean up illegally-dumped items, but they care about public land.


To Do For You

Senior Wellness

The Twin Falls Senior Center will hold a free presentation for senior citizens at 11:45 a.m. Monday at 530 Shoshone St. W.

Rhea Lanting with University of Idaho Extension Service will discuss the heart healthy foods that seniors should have in their diet.

Free. 208-734-5084.

Breastfeeding

Free “Breastfeeding 101” class, 7 p.m. Monday in the Oak Room on the lower level of St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, 801 Pole Line Road W., Twin Falls.

Topic: Breastfeeding basics for new and expectant mothers. Babies are welcome; 208-814-0407.

Childbirth

Childbirth refresher course, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, in the Oak Rooms on the lower level of St. Luke’s, 801 Pole Line Road W.

Topic: Review of childbirth preparation and breathing techniques and a tour of the Maternal and Child Unit. Bring a labor support person, if possible.

Cost is $20 and pre-registration is required: 208-814-0407.

Ostomy Support

Ostomy Support Group, 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, in the Pine Room on the lower level of St. Luke’s, 801 Pole Line Road W. in Twin Falls, for ostomy patients and their families.

Free; 208-308-6153.

Parkinson’s Support

Magic Valley Parkinson’s Support Group meeting, 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, at the Jerome Public Library, 100 First Ave. E.

A continuing discussion will be held with information about Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), finding the right time to tell your employer about your Parkinson’s disease, and the value of music by Roger Manning, as well as other topics of interest to those with Parkinson’s and their spouses or caregivers. Time will be scheduled for brain exercises, vocal stimulation and physical therapy ideas, all of which are helpful to delay the progression of symptoms.

The support group is available to assist people with Parkinson’s disease from throughout the Magic Valley.

Information: nfturley@att.net or 208-358-5807.

Laughter Exercise

Laughing Yoga, known as Laughter Club, 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the Twin Falls Senior Center, 530 Shoshone St. W., with Mary Martinat, a retired physical education instructor.

Learn how laughing can relieve stress and improve your breathing.

Free. 208-734-5084.

Blood Drives

The American Red Cross will hold blood drives in Hailey and Ketchum.

The blood drives are scheduled from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, at the Hailey LDS Church, 821 Broadford Road; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday, May 20, at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, 100 Hospital Drive, Ketchum. All blood types are needed.

Schedule an appointment: 1-800-733-2767 or redcrossblood.org.

Alzheimer’s Support

Alzheimer’s Support Group meeting, 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, at Rosetta Assisted Living, 1177 Eastridge Court, Twin Falls.

Support for area residents who have family members with Alzheimer’s. Free adult day care available.

Pre-registration is required: 208-734-9422.

Alzheimer’s Support

Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Idaho Chapter’s Caregiver Support Group meeting, 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, May 13 , at DeSano Place Suites, 545 Nevada St., Gooding.

The group meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays every month.

Information: 208-934-4623.

Infant Safety

Infant safety and cardiopulmonary resuscitation class, 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, in the Oak Room on the lower level of St. Luke’s, 801 Pole Line Road W., Twin Falls.

New parents, grandparents and caregivers learn CPR and what to do if a baby chokes. The class isn’t a certification course.

Free; no registration required. 208-814-0407.

Mental Health Support

Mental Health Support Group, 5:30 p.m. every Thursday at Family Health Services/Behavioral Health building, 1102 Eastland Drive N., Twin Falls.

The free support group is open to Magic Valley residents. 208-734-1281.

Anxiety Support

Anxiety Support Group, 6 p.m. every Thursday at Magic Valley Fellowship Hall, 801 Second Ave. N., Twin Falls.

Support for those who experience anxiety, panic attacks or depression. Learn about the signs, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and coping skills.

Information: Cathy Shaddy, 208-410-2768.

Health Fair

North Canyon Medical Center Health Fair, 7-11 a.m. Saturday, May 16, at 267 N. Canyon Drive in Gooding.

The event includes health informational booths, free breakfast, and tours of the operating rooms.

Blood work is available for chemistry profile, $35 (comprehensive metabolic panel, lipid panel, thyroid, complete blood count; must fast 12 hours before the blood test); HgA1c (hemoglobin A1c), $15; PSA (prostatic specific antigen) for men, $15; and testosterone testing for men, $15.

Blood draw specials will be available from 7-11 a.m. Saturday at North Canyon Medical Center; and from 7-10 a.m. at the following locations: May 18, at West End Senior Citizens Center, 1010 Main St., Buhl; May 19, at Wendell Senior Center, 105 W. Ave. A; May 20, at Glenns Ferry VFW Hall, 132 E. Fifth Ave.; May 21, at Hagerman Valley Senior Center, 140 E. Lake; and May 22, at Golden Years Senior Center, 218 N. Rail St., Shoshone.

Participants may register on the day of their blood work, at any location, or pre-register through Thursday: www.ncm-c.org, 208-934-9692 or at the medical center in Gooding.

Information: 208-934-4433.


Official: Wyoming Plan By Itself Won’t Keep Grouse Off List

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) | Wyoming has made key sacrifices as it develops a conservation strategy for the greater sage grouse, but it won't be enough to keep the birds off the federal endangered species list, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told a U.S. Senate committee.

The comments by Director Dan Ashe came Wednesday as the agency faces a court-ordered deadline of Sept. 30 to decide whether the greater sage grouse warrants protecting as a threatened or endangered species.

The stakes are especially high because the birds inhabit vast areas of Wyoming that are being eyed for oil and gas drilling and wind farm development.

An endangered listing "would be economically bad for our state and because we believe we know best how to protect the bird in Wyoming," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in questioning Ashe.

Ashe urged broader cooperation on conservation measures by several states and federal agencies. But he cautioned that even those measures might not stop ongoing litigation aimed at listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

If the agency decides a listing is not warranted, "then we're going to have to defend that record. And so we're going to have to be able put together an administrative record that we can bring to court," Ashe told the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in Washington.

Greater sage grouse range across 11 states from California to the Dakotas. Wyoming, with as many as half a million of the birds, is home to more than any other state.

Wyoming already has seen grizzly bears and wolves removed from federal protection in recent years, only to have those species returned to the threatened and endangered lists by court order.

Wyoming's sage grouse conservation strategy designates large portions of the state as core habitat. The core areas carry restrictions on development, such as limits on concentrations of oil and gas wells.

"Wyoming made difficult decisions to conserve the sage grouse. So conservation involves sacrifice. At some level, we have to make trade-offs. Wyoming has made them well," Ashe said.

Idaho also has worked with federal agencies to conserve sage grouse habitat, he said.

"Hopefully we'll see other states, their plans take shape here very quickly. Oregon, Montana, Colorado. It's that collective effort that will get us across the finish line," Ashe said.

Late last year, the Senate approved a budget provision that will prohibit Fish and Wildlife from implementing a threatened or endangered listing for the greater sage grouse. The provision will remain in effect at least through September, 2016.

Bills currently pending in the Senate and House would postpone any listing for five years or more.


McCreedy Named Next Amalgamated Sugar CEO

BOISE • The Amalgamated Sugar Co. announced that John McCreedy will succeed Vic Jaro as president and CEO of the sugar beet grower cooperative.

Since joining Amalgamated Sugar as general counsel in 2004, McCreedy has risen the ranks, most recently serving as executive vice president, according to a release. He recently led the company’s reorganization, labor relations and business development efforts, the release said.

McCreedy also serves as the chairman of the Idaho Board of Environmental Quality.

Jaro is retiring after nine years as CEO.

As CEO, McCreedy will control 1,400 workers contributing to processing sugar beets grown by 787 co-op members. Most of the sugar beets are grown in Idaho, though some come from the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington. Amalgamated Sugar produces 10 percent of the nation’s sugar at its processing plants in Nampa, Twin Falls and Paul, and is the second-largest sugar-beet company in the country, according to the release.


First Transgender Cop in Idaho Shares Her Experiences

“When do I get to have long hair?”

Decades ago, a curious, 4-year-old child living south of Salt Lake City, posed that simple question to grandma.

“You don’t,” the child’s grandmother replied. “You’re a boy.”

It didn’t seem fair. The child was born male, but inside, always felt female. Something must be wrong, the child thought.

At an early age, the child recalled climbing out of the bathtub, wrapping up in a towel and pretending it was “a nice, beautiful dress.” The child recalled using a towel, to mimic long hair. The child asked to wear a nightgown. When grandma refused, the child donned a grandpa’s old T-shirt and pretended.

The child enviously eyed women with long, flowing locks.

“Why can’t I have that?” the child wondered.

As time went by, the child buried confused feelings. It was better to hide it than fight it, the child thought.

That child is now Danielle Lundgren, a 42-year-old Idaho Falls resident, who lived as Derek — the name she was assigned at birth — for 40 years.

To the outside world, Derek presented as a masculine man. He got married. Fathered four children. Sought out manly pursuits such as big trucks, motorcycles and hunting. Became a law enforcement officer.

But Lundgren hid how she felt inside. Nearly two years ago, she decided to live her truth. She now identifies openly as a transgender woman.

“For the first time, I can look in the mirror — even when I get out of bed, and my hair’s all ratty and messy — and I can go, ‘There she is,’ ” Danielle said. “That’s who I’m supposed to be.”

Figuring Things Out

As Danielle puts it, Derek was an ass. He was “jaded, cold — literally sometimes, cruel,” she said.

Her friends agree.

“As Derek, (Lundgren) was not a very nice person,” Danielle’s friend Ranae Johnson said. “I did not like Derek. He was just real standoffish, not very friendly and hard to get to know. I guess knowing what I know now, there was a shell there. He was just very unhappy inside.”

“He was very selfless but could tell there was some depression, almost,” friend Danielle D’Ulisse added. “He was just sad … it was just an effect on his overall personality.”Statistics show transgender individuals are at risk for increased suicide, discrimination and depression, among other things.

Derek was married three times to three women. He was a deputy with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office for more than 12 years in which he worked as a field training officer, a SWAT team member, a detective, an EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course) instructor and a motorcycle officer.

“He was a good officer and did very well,” said former sheriff Byron Stommel. “I had no complaints about him.”

At work and in his personal life, Derek largely kept his gender identity hidden — at the time, not even having a term for it.

That changed about 15 years ago when, for the first time, Derek got home Internet access. Danielle remembers staying up into the wee hours browsing the web, searching for a term that fit her.

“I just knew there was something,” she said. “But I didn’t have the definition … I knew people talked about cross-dressing and drag queens, but none of those fit — those things were done for entertainment, and what I felt was not an entertainment situation, it was a legitimate ‘I’m in the wrong body.’ So when I came across the term ‘transgender’ it was just like a light bulb. Like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ An epiphany, almost.”

With that hopeful bit of knowledge, Derek began digging into research. He came out to his wife and began exploring little tastes of femininity — researching hormonal therapy, wearing flared jeans, dressing more openly in front of his kids.

Those things, he hoped, would help quench the desire to be feminine. But they didn’t.

Eventually, he began taking low doses of hormones. He hoped that too would “help calm things from the inside.” That didn’t work, either.

“It’s like giving a child a taste of the candy and then expect them to go, ‘That’s good, I’m happy with that,’” Danielle said.

Living secretly transgender was like having a car alarm going off “every second of every day,” she said, as it constantly permeated her thoughts.

Eventually, she could no longer stand the blaring alarm. Severely depressed and contemplating suicide, coming out became a decision of life or death. Had she not, Danielle said today she’d be dead.

In May 2013 she crafted a carefully worded “coming out” post on Facebook. She said she expected to be fired from her job at the Sheriff’s Office the next day. She said she expected to lose 90 percent of her friends and family right then.

“What I was shocked by, was, the absolute outpouring of support,” she said. “I didn’t get one negative comment.”

Becoming Danielle

Transitioning isn’t as simple as throwing on a dress, said Danielle, who began the lengthy process — mental and psychological evaluations, legal paperwork and other things — shortly after coming out.

She also discussed her transition with her superiors at work.

“Let’s face it, first, I am the very first person in Bonneville County … to make the full legal, lawful transition,” Danielle said. “Then, I was the only out cop in the state of Idaho. I mean wow, that’s a huge thing. We had agencies from all over, contacting us, basically saying, ‘we’re going to sit back and watch — we want to observe what’s going to happen and how things go.’ ”

Danielle hoped to make the process “as positive as possible for everybody” and help pave the way for the next person. She said she knew bathrooms would be an issue — so, at her suggestion, single-occupancy bathrooms in the county courthouse were changed from gender specific to non-gender specific.

On Dec. 18, 2013, an emotional Danielle, her now ex-wife and oldest son by her side, went to court. Those were her last few moments living life as the wrong person, Danielle said.

People she’d known for years walked by, and shook her hand. Others gave her a hug of support. Finally, she recalls, the judge — a longtime, familiar face — read her case “business as usual,” asked the appropriate questions, completed the process and slammed the gavel.

“That was it — I was Danielle,” she said. “At that moment, I was born, I can be me. No one else can take it away from me, no one can make me have to go back.”

Moving Forward

It hasn’t all been easy. In January 2014, when she returned to work as Danielle, she noticed an immediate difference in treatment among those who supported her and those who didn’t.

“The passive-aggressiveness, people not wanting to say ‘hi’ to you anymore, people not wanting to even acknowledge your existence or work on the same case as you,” she said. “You’re treated kind of like you have the plague.”

Throughout the process Danielle has experienced loss, but she also said her life has been enriched. She’s built a support network of friends in Idaho Falls; she volunteers at local events and has shared her story publicly multiple times.

“A lot of it has been pulling it out of her shell,” friend April Rowberry said. “I remember (one time) at a women’s dressing room — she was so freaking scared. I was like, ‘No one cares, let’s go.’ And no one cared. So it’s been mostly helping her with her courage …. I’ve seen tons of growth in the last few months, it’s incredible how much she’s come out of her own skin.”

Danielle testified before the Idaho Falls City Council on the city’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance in 2013. This spring, she shared her experience gender transitioning before lawmakers in Boise on the “Add the Words” bill. And she’s spoken to just about every high school Gay-Straight Alliance in town.

“When I first came out, my whole thought at the time was just to live a normal, quiet life,” Danielle said. “I didn’t want to be into advocacy, or be seen as people’s role model … but (eventually) it was like, ‘How the hell can I not get involved?’ The more I thought about it, the more I just had to tell my story. Because there are so many people just like us that kind of fly under the radar … and by doing so, we do ourselves an injustice.”

Danielle quit her job in law enforcement earlier this year, in part, because she said it no longer fit who she is.

“Derek was the cop,” she said.

Now, she hopes to return to school and pursue a career in therapy.

“I don’t go around begging for attention, putting on a show and carrying this big flag that says ‘Hey look at me, this is who I am,’ ” she said. “All I want to do is live my life and be treated with the respect that I earn as a productive member of society — as a normal woman. Because that’s what I am.”


2 Injured in Hagerman Crash

HAGERMAN • Two Hagerman residents were injured Friday night in a two-vehicle accident.

Idaho State Police investigated the crash at 9:42 p.m. southeast of Hagerman.

Cameron Steers, 23, of Hagerman, was traveling eastbound on 2700 South in a 1989 Toyota Camry.

Ryanne Royce, 18, of Hagerman, was traveling westbound on 2700 South in a 2010 Ford Fusion. Steers’ vehicle drifted into the westbound lane and the two vehicles collided.

Royce was wearing a seatbelt, but Steers was not.

Royce was transported by ground ambulance to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, but wasn’t listed as a patient Saturday morning.

Steers was transported by air ambulance to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. He was listed in a serious condition Saturday morning, meaning vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits.

The road was blocked for about three-and-a-half hours while crews worked to remove the wreckage.

The crash is still under investigation by ISP.