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Why is Jefferson County Lake so low?

Water levels at Jefferson County Lake in Rigby, as of May 26. | Jefferson County Parks & Recreation Facebook
RIGBY — Memorial Day weekend usually attracts a large crowd at Jefferson County Lake in Rigby. But this year, numbers were sparse, and water levels are significantly lower than usual.
Mickey Eames, manager of Jefferson County’s Parks & Rec., which oversees the lake, attributes the lack of water to delays in the irrigation season this year.
“As soon as farmers start watering their fields, the lake starts filling,” Eames says.
Eames tells the lake is fed by groundwater. In a typical year, there’s usually enough water in May for people to spend a day at the lake. Since farmers haven’t been able to get into their fields as early this year due to a longer-than-average winter, the planting season and need for irrigation water have been pushed back.
Ty Scott is part of the canal board for Water District 1, which oversees water usage along the Snake River from Milner Dam in Burley to Jackson Lake. Scott is an alternate representative for Luke Hicks, who represents the area along the Dry Bed, a tributary of the Snake River stretching 33 miles across Jefferson County.

Map showing the flow of the Dry Bed along the Snake River. | Courtesy Idaho Department of Fish and Game
Many years ago, managers of Jefferson County Lake owned water rights and pumped water into the lake every spring, Scott says. Over time, it caused an issue with flooding.
Scott says the lake was so full, “they were flooding basements in the town of Rigby. Then there was a lawsuit, and it shut down (pumping operations). That fixed the problem. Nobody’s basements got flooded anymore.”
With limitations in place for how full the lake could be, Parks & Rec eventually sold its water rights. This forced lake managers to rely on groundwater every year.
As a result, Eames says the lake isn’t usually full until the end of June.
“Even last year in a drought season, it was the same. They started watering sooner last year because they were able to get in their fields faster,” Eames explains.
Last Tuesday night’s rain storm, which caused flash flooding throughout eastern Idaho, “helped a little” in filling the lake, according to a Facebook post from Jefferson County Parks & Recreation. Most of the bottom was covered, as of Saturday.
RELATED | GALLERY: Eastern Idaho sees major flash flooding after rainstorm on Tuesday, May 23

Now that farmers are starting to irrigate, Eames is expecting the lake will be full by the end of June.
“It’s coming up about a foot or two a day now,” says Eames.

Upper Snake River Water District levels as of Monday. | Courtesy Bureau of Reclamation
The post Why is Jefferson County Lake so low? appeared first on East Idaho News.

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