U.S. Water News Online
WENDELL, Idaho -- By next spring, 20 dry acres of sagebrush
and cheatgrass near Wendell will sparkle with water from the North
Side Canal Company. State officials are hoping the diverted water
will percolate through the soil, seeping into the aquifer below.
If the state's first aquifer recharge project is successful, the
property above the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer could become a
template for similar efforts across the state.
"It's just a perfect site for a pilot project," Dave Blew with the
Idaho Department of Water Resources told The Times-News. "We think
this site is fairly similar to other sites on the Eastern Snake River
Plain Aquifer. We're going to try to develop sites farther down into
Changes in irrigation practices, groundwater pumping and several
years of drought have taken a toll on the aquifer, and the aquifer's
dropping water levels have led to squabbles and lawsuits between
Hydrologists with the Idaho Department of Water Resources have
developed a model that suggests most of the water pushed into the
soils near Wendell will return to the springs near Devil's Washbowl
and Thousand Springs. But it's not clear just how long it will take
the water to return to the aquifer.
If the effort works, state officials may open other recharge sites
around southern Idaho.
Experiments like this one should have been a priority all along,
said Idaho Power Company vice president Greg Panter. This year alone,
Panter estimated, the state allowed 180,000 acre feet of water that
could have been used for recharge to flow down the Snake River and
out of Idaho.
But not all consider Panter to be on the side of recharge. During
the 2006 Legislature, Panter and Idaho Power battled with House
Speaker Bruce Newcomb over a bill that would have given priority to
using water for recharge over its use for hydropower generation.
Newcomb said his bill would have allowed the state to reclaim its
own water for recharge, while Panter claimed it would simply lead to
higher power bills for more than 455,000 Idaho Power customers. The
bill failed in the Senate, but Clive Strong with the Idaho attorney
general's office still managed to find two water rights entitling the
state to up to 2,000 cubic feet per second of water for recharge.
Using those water rights, the Wendell recharge project will be
under way primarily in the early spring and late fall. The site is
expected to handle about 10,000 acre feet of water a year, Blew said.
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