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Upper Snake River Basin Water Storage Levels

Posted On
Apr 22, 2015

Last week I was traveling along the South Fork of the Snake and the main steam of the Snake for a couple of hundred miles on my way to chase some brown trout in Oregon. While riding shotgun I was reading the Henry’s Fork Foundation’s blog in which Dr. Rob Van Kirk indicated that the Henry’s Fork watershed is experiencing the driest spring in 35 years. Furthermore, April – June stream flows are predicted to be the lowest in the past 35 years!

Eventually I arrive to our destination, the Owyhee River, already knowing that it’s running at 13 cfs and the reservoir which feeds the amazing tailwater is currently at 27% of capacity. Of even more concern is that the snow water equivalent for the Owyhee Basin is at 16% right now! So, on the return drive along the Snake and South Fork, I became increasingly curious about the current state of the reservoir/lake levels in the Snake River Basin. After an average to low average winter snow fall and warmer than average winter, does it look like there will be enough water for agricultural purposes? How about for the trout? Well, here’s a quick snapshot of the current state of affairs.

Snake River

Image from

The good news is that most of the lakes and reservoirs in the Upper Snake River Basin are at or near capacity at the moment. The snow water equivalents for the Henry’s Fork and Snake River (above Palisades) Basins are around 86% at the moment. To the novice like myself, these numbers may not appear all that concerning. As mentioned above, however, when considering this winter’s mediocre precipitation and warm temperatures, let’s hope there’s adequate water supply through the summer and late fall. For the health of the trout in the tailwaters of this basin (e.g., Snake above Palisades, South Fork of the Snake, Henry’s Fork, etc.), adequate reservoir storage levels are necessary for healthy winter flows NEXT year.

I guess the overall point here is that we have water in the Upper Snake River system right now. It’s easy to forget, however, that this water is in high demand and there’s a lot of competition for its’ usage. Our trout fisheries are not impenetrable timeless entities that will inevitably always be there for us in the future. Year after year of mild winters and less than ideal snowfall, combined with irrigation and other competing water demands, can and most likely will affect the quality of these world class fisheries. Let’s be sure to not take them for granted and do what we can to preserve and conserve.


For up to date info on the water storage capacity of the Snake River basin, click here.

To read Dr. Van Kirk’s blog post on this year’s Henry’s Fork River flow projections, click here.

Article originally posted at