U.S. Water News Online
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- The State Water Resources director has
given southern Idaho irrigators a last chance to come up with a way
to stop depleting spring flows into the Middle Snake River.
``If there is not mitigation in place, there undoubtedly will be
curtailment and reductions'' in 2004, Karl Dreher said.
Dreher met with water users to establish rules for a hearing for
him to determine whether a plan submitted by a coalition of 500
groundwater pumpers will provide sufficient flows to fulfill the
rights of spring water users, primarily hatcheries.
For the past two years under an agreement sanctioned by the state,
the irrigators have funneled substantial amounts of water back into
the Snake to compensate for the spring flows reduced by wells.
But the hatcheries, which account for 75 percent of the nation's
commercial trout production, say that approach does not guarantee
that the flows will be restored to assure them their water
entitlement and could go to court if Dreher approves it.
Dreher has the option of accepting the irrigators' plan as
adequate and maintaining the status quo, rejecting it and ordering
wells drilled during the 1960s and since to be shut off or combining
the two approaches.
Irrigators in Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and southern
Blaine counties have been pressing for a quick decision so they can
plan financing and crop rotations for the 2004 season.
But no hearing date has been set, and Dreher said he expects his
decision to be appealed to the courts.
Shutting down wells could create problems for scores of dairies
and dry up as much as 25,000 acres of crop land, farmers say.
The conflict between irrigators using groundwater and water users
relying on surface flows in the river has been brewing for decades.
Surface water users contend the shift from ditch irrigation through
the canal system to sprinklers fed by deep wells has reduced water
levels in the aquifer and curtailed flows into the Snake.
Well pumpers maintain they are not withdrawing enough water to
have a marked effect.
Four years of drought have only aggravated the situation.
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