U.S. Water News Online
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- With a January deadline looming for
water rights holders to make sales offers to the state, few farmers
in the chronically arid region between Twin Falls and Jackpot, Nev.,
are in a hurry to make a deal.
A panel of lawmakers charged with reducing the amount of water
coming out of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer want to find out
how much water is available for the state to purchase.
If they can buy up 60,000-acre feet of surface water from private
owners downstream of Thousand Springs, they could use it to meet
Endangered Species Act requirements for salmon recovery.
Farmer Dick Kevan said he might be interested in foregoing his
crop of peas, beans and grains every year if selling his water rights
would be more financially beneficial.
"If you can sell your water and make more on that, then why not?"
Kevan said. "They're doing it all over the West."
But Kevan, who's a board member of the canal company for the
Salmon Tract, said none of his fellow farmers have made a move yet.
"I think they are waiting for someone to make an offer, and then
if the offer is good enough, then we'll start discussing it," he
But the state can't make the offer. Lawmakers on the interim
committee structured the offer-to-sell deal so that owners of water
rights would have to approach the Department of Water Resources, not
the other way around.
But Rep. Doug Jones, R-Filer, a partner in a family corporation
that owns Salmon Tract water shares, said the Idaho Water Resources
Board might wind up facilitating some deals.
"In fact, I'm going to guess that if we get some of this resolved,
there will be a variety of sales between private parties," Jones
Meanwhile, the state can't even discuss what the various rights
might be worth, Idaho Department of Water Resources spokesman Mike
"We can't advise them because we're not sure of that ourselves,"
So far, interest from farmers appears to be subdued. On average,
only about three people per day call the agency to find out about the
offer-to-sell deal, he said. No one has actually submitted an offer
to sell yet.
That doesn't surprise Hammett high-lift pumper Bill Ringert. He
said he's interested in the offer, since the cost of electricity to
pump water out of the Snake River to his fields has increased
eight-fold in the past 30 years.
"You have to raise a helluva crop of beans to make a profit," he
But still, the retired water attorney and former state senator
said there are too many questions clouding the proposal for him to
make any hasty decisions.
Ringert isn't sure selling rights is the best idea. He asked why
the state isn't offering a mid-term or long-term leasing deal. He's
also pondering the long-range effects of selling some or all of his
water rights, such as what to do with his land.
That's in addition to trying to figure out what water rights are
going for, which is based partly on how much water is available, he
Another complication involves the irrigation project on which
Ringert farms. Each farmer on the project gets his water from the
same pumping station. Ringert said if one farmer makes the decision
to sell his water rights, it could affect everyone else on the
Keckler said his agency anticipated that farmers might hang back.
"We thought water users would take time over the holidays and talk
to their friends and their lawyers, and after the first of the year
they will come back with some hard deals," he said.
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