Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Monday, March 21, 2005

Water, water anywhere?

by Senator Larry Craig

“March roared in like a lion,” so the saying goes. Clearly, that was not the case this year. In Idaho, most of the month has been marked by only a few clouds that brought only shade, and temperatures well above average. While that might help to keep the cabin fever at bay, the dry winter is a source of concern to many around the state: on the farm, on the range, and in the forests.

As winter draws to a close, it becomes clearer that Idaho will not get the kind of rain and snowfall we had all hoped for. There is still a reasonable hope for a wet spring to alleviate the effects of a miniscule snowpack in most areas of the state. Include me in that crowd. Unfortunately, it would take rains of almost biblical proportions to fill our lakes and reservoirs to their full capacities this year. Even with a wet spring, it appears Idaho is headed into yet another year of drought.

While this can be discouraging, there are still some things to be optimistic about. The continued drought will catch no one by surprise, and farmers around the state are, and should be considering all options to mitigate the effects of drought this season. Back in Washington, D.C., we will be taking a hard look at the issue and what we can do, should problems become severe. We know a dry season is likely on its way, so we’re preparing well in advance.

With regard to our forests and public lands, there is also some good news. Readers might recall the 33 air tankers that were grounded last summer due to safety concerns. The Forest Service and BLM adjusted well, and the Lower 48 states were blessed with a relatively mild fire season. This year, I am pleased to report that twenty of those grounded tankers have been certified as airworthy and will return to firefighting duty this summer.

In addition, it has been nearly eighteen months since the Healthy Forests bill passed, and a number of important thinning and cleaning projects have gotten underway in our national forests. This will help to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in those forests, making the federal government a better neighbor to the private landowners nearby. These projects also reduce risk to critical watersheds and wildlife habitat.

Of course, the most important factor, the weather, is well beyond anyone’s control. That does not mean that we are all powerless to affect the course of events this summer. Indeed, much can be done throughout the summer and into the fall to stretch our water resources and prepare for the warm, dry months ahead.

Voluntarily cutting household consumption of water can go a long way. We Idahoans love our cars, but if you live in a drought affected area, perhaps you might consider washing your car every two or three weeks, instead of every week. You don’t have to give up your garden or your green lawn; just water them at night or early in the morning, when cooler temperatures mean less evaporation. Remember, concrete doesn’t grow, so make sure your sprinklers only water the grass, not the sidewalk or the street.

Also, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality points out that leaky faucets and pipes account for ten percent of the average homeowner’s indoor water usage. Repairing them not only saves water, it can help lower your water bill as well.

We can all take a page from the land manager’s book and create a defensible space between homes and property and surrounding forest lands. Clearing dense underbrush and thinning overgrown trees reduces fuel loads and significantly decreases the threat of wildfire.

Rest assured, as the summer and its companion, the fire season, draw nearer, I will continue working in the Senate to ensure that Idaho producers, landowners and land managers have the tools they need to withstand the drought and reduce fire danger on our public lands. March came in like a lamb this year, and we can all do our part to make sure that lamb doesn’t get scorched this summer.

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