Above Average Water Levels but Below Average Snowpack—Why Does It Matter?

Currently, snowpack levels in Idaho are below average, but reservoir levels are significantly higher than usual. What does this mean, and why should you care?


First, we should define snowpack levels. Snowpack forms from layers of snow that accumulate during the winter months. They serve as a drinking water source for many communities, but they may also create a potential source of flooding. Snowpacks provide an important water resource for streams and rivers as they melt in the spring and summer months. Modeling and analyzing is necessary to assess snow stability in avalanche risk areas, flood forecasting, water resource management, and general climate studies.


Idaho basins statewide are experiencing high reservoir levels, meaning that communities have a significant source of water “in the bank.” The source provides a baseline foundation of available water—water which might be necessary with a below-average snowpack level. However, snowpack levels are also indicative of ecological and wildlife health.


Though communities have access to the back-up water supplies found in reservoirs, a below average snowpack level can spell disaster for streams and rivers. Smaller streams in and around western Idaho, such as in the Weiser River Basin, the Paytte River Basin, and the Boise River Basin, may dry up in the hot summer months, killing water-dwelling animals and significantly damaging fragile, local ecosystems.

So, why should you care?

Watershed and reservoir levels indicate more than community wellbeing. Though a population may have a backup plan, it is important to understand that levels and factors in local water sources impact every aspect of their surroundings.


Read more about this topic on Capital Press.