U.S. Water News Online
HAZELTON, Idaho-- Some farmers in southern Idaho who rely
on pumping groundwater to irrigate their crops are opting to dry up
some of their land for 15 years in exchange for money from the
"They're going to push us out sooner or later," farmer Wade
Prescott told The Times-News. "We figured this was a good chance to
get out before they do."
Irrigators with senior water rights in 2005 asked the state to
shut down underground water pumpers like Prescott. The Eastern Snake
River Plain Aquifer from which Prescott pumps water has seen water
levels decline during the last 50 years.
Prescott said changes in irrigation practices, aquifer pumping and
drought mean he and others could face more problems in trying to use
underground water in the future.
So he decided to put 300 acres in the Conservation Reserve
Enhancement Program, which started last May. The state and federal
program pays farmers to let their lands go dry for 15 years.
"There are several people who came in and said, 'I need to get
through harvest and then do this,"' said Wayne Hammon, executive
director of Idaho's Farm Service Agency.
Farmers are paid $110 to $130 per acre of land taken out of
production, Hammon told The Associated Press.
The conservation program for the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer
will cost about $258 million, Hammon said. About $200 million of that
will take about 100,000 acres out of production for 15 years.
The rest of the money, Hammon said, will be used for other
expenses, including paying farmers a one-time signing bonus of $30
per acre, and $4 per acre every year for maintenance and weed
control. He said farmers can also receive government money to share
the costs of such things as hiring someone to convert farm land to
The project is expected to reduce aquifer pumping by 200,000 acre
Hammon said that at the beginning of August, farmers had signed up
more than 200,000 acres. But he said not all that land qualifies, and
so far about 90,000 acres have been disqualified and 22,000 acres
accepted. To qualify, land had to have been farmed four out of six
years from 1996 to 2001, and had to be irrigated one out of the last
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