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Bear Lake County swamped with snow

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

MONTPELIER – After suffering through a few tough water years, farmers and ranchers in Bear Lake County prayed for moisture this winter.

Well, they got it and then some.

“We prayed for snow, we got snow,” said Bear Lake County rancher Mark Harris.

Snowpack in the Bear Lake Basin was pushing 170 percent of normal as of early April and the snow was still coming.

“We’re having a winter to remember,” said Bear Lake County farmer Jim Parker. “We’ve had a lot of snow; heavy snow.”

He said the Montpelier valley has received a record amount of snow this year.

“There are quite a few places where you can’t see a fence because it’s covered with snow,” Parker said. “It’s just been a crazy, crazy winter for us.”

Drought won’t be an issue in the county this year but the tremendous amounts of snow are causing other problems.

Dozens of structures, most of them ag-type structures such as barns, have collapsed under the weight of snow and ice that has built up all winter.

“We’ve had a lot of buildings collapse,” said alfalfa farmer Albert Johnson, president of Bear Lake County Farm Bureau. “I’ve had to build scaffolding under some of my barns to keep them from coming down.”

“There are some pretty serious effects of that much snow,” he said. “There’s some unbelievable stuff happening in the county.”

Parker said he lost count of how many structures have collapsed.

“Some of the structures that we’ve lost are metal buildings with metal girders,” he said.

The brutal winter has made calving season a major challenge, said Harris, who serves as a state legislator.

“It’s made calving extremely difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to find places to put cattle.”

Parker said the difference between this winter and others with lots of snow is that temperatures never warmed up enough to melt any of it away.

“Usually (during the winter) we get a thaw and it melts the snow down a lot, then it builds back up,” he said. “We didn’t get that this year. So it’s just been stacking up and stacking up. This year it hasn’t melted. It’s just piles and piles of snow.”

“I remember in the ‘80s we got quite a bit of snow but not this late in the year,” Harris said. “It is one for the record books.”

With that much snow, the next danger is flooding.

“The main concern now is flooding,” Harris said. “If it rains and warms up too fast, there’s going to be a lot of flooding.”

Parker said the county is already preparing for the possibility of significant flooding.

“We have facilities ready with sandbags. We’re preparing for flooding,” he said.

The plentiful moisture will also delay planting this year in an area that already has a short growing season. The main crops in the county are alfalfa, barley and wheat but farmers in the area will almost certainly be late in planting them this year.

With all the troubles the snowfall has brought to the county, farmers and ranchers there say they wouldn’t trade it for the alternative: drought or another tough water year.

“My dad told me to never cuss the moisture so I’m not going to complain,” said Harris.

“We’ll get through it,” Parker said. “At least there will be water this year.”

Johnson said he’s expecting the Bear Lake to rise 10-12 feet this year.

“We’ll take that for sure,” he said. “Irrigation, that’s where our money is made.”