“Do your snow dance” has been an oft repeated catchphrase over the last few weeks. After an inspiring start to the winter, the atmospheric river over Idaho went dry for more than two months – leaving skiers, farmers, homeowners, river runners, outfitters and guides, firefighters and fishermen all worried about yet another drought year. Recent storms have helped out, but we still are falling short of our average snowpack for this time of the year. It’s also certainly not enough to make up for last year’s drought, which impacted areas home to more than 1.3 million Idahoans. Last year, 43 of Idaho’s 44 counties had USDA drought disaster designations. 

Twin Falls, Idaho. Sunset over the Snake River Canyon in spring.

Tuesday, March 22 is World Water Day – an international recognition of the intrinsic importance of water to our lives. The theme of this year is groundwater, and making the invisible visible. Groundwater has often been considered separately from surface water, although the two are connected:

Groundwater is invisible, but its impacts are visible everywhere.

Out of sight and under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives. 

Almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater.

As climate change worsens, groundwater will become more and more critical. 

We need to work together to sustainably manage this precious resource.

Groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind. 

Last year, I was lucky enough to have a sabbatical where I rafted, kayaked, canoed, or paddle boarded over 550 miles of designated or eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers. The low water year meant I had to adapt when and how I floated them – so I had to get creative. 

Photo by John Robison.

I delayed fishing trips during the heat dome because the trout were already too stressed by high temperatures to deal with the extra exertion of being hooked and landed. My visions of boisterous whitewater raft trips turned into low water, “plan which rock you are going to hit” trips in small rafts, duckies or on stand up paddleboards. It was smart to add an extra day to each river trip to make up for the low, slow flows. And it wasn’t just me adapting – farmers, ranchers and other water users had to adapt to cut their losses as Idaho’s economy took a hit

We’ll have to continue changing our habits if we want anything to improve. The University of Idaho’s Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment found that conditions are going to worsen if greenhouse gas pollution continues as is. The good news – there are plenty of things to do about it. 

How to help:  

  1. Recreate responsibly! Since there may be more people on the fewer floatable sections of Idaho’s rivers and lakes, practice good etiquette with others and minimize your impact on the land and water.
  2. Be water smart. Take steps to conserve Idaho’s surface water and groundwater (they are all connected), starting in your home! Check your faucets for leaks, use rainwater in your garden, and only run your clothes washer and dishwasher when they are full. 
  3. Stand up for water. It is far easier to keep clean water clean than to clean it up after it has been polluted. Help us stop projects that pollute our water, such as from the Kilgore gold exploration project in the headwaters of streams that feed into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, a drinking source for more than 300,000 Idahoans. 
  4. Give back! Support river restoration efforts in our National Forests and along the Snake River in southern Idaho.
  5. Go green! Participate in reducing Idaho’s carbon footprint by conserving energy, driving less, buying local, reducing waste, and minimizing beef consumption.

In celebration of World Water Day, we encourage you to reflect on the importance of water and take steps to protect it. Sign up for ICL email updates to get the latest news and action alerts on the public lands, water, and wildlife you love.