U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- Curtailing the water use of some southern
Idaho residents would cost the state and the region millions of
dollars, according to a study presented to lawmakers.
Though senior water right holders would benefit by curtailment,
the study found the gains would not outweigh the economic losses of
junior groundwater users in the Snake River Plain Aquifer.
There is simply not enough water to satisfy all the existing water
rights, said Donald Snyder, an associate dean with Utah State
University who headed the study.
Several years of drought, decades of water pumping and changing
irrigation practices have exacerbated southern Idaho's water
shortage. Earlier this year seven canal companies demanded that the
state deliver their senior water rights, even if doing so means that
other water users must be forced to shut off their pumps.
Negotiations between canal companies and groundwater users are
continuing, but the state could cut some water users off if the
dispute remains unsolved.
The study, commissioned by the Idaho Senate Resources and
Environment Committee last year and paid for by the Idaho Attorney
General's Office, showed that curtailing the water use of junior
water rights holders on the Snake River Plain Aquifer would cost the
state as much as $204.3 million in lost labor income, property income
and business taxes.
Groundwater users would bear the brunt of those costs, Snyder
"The bottom line is that losses to water right holders will be in
excess of gains to combined surface/spring water right holders in the
foreseeable future," Snyder said.
Under Idaho's water system, rights or legal claims to water are
doled out based on the date in which the water user applied. The
study focused on people with irrigation or aquaculture water rights,
and divided them into groups based on whether they had senior -- or
older -- rights or junior water rights.
If everyone who received water rights after the start of 1949 were
asked to curtail their use, then the state would see a positive gain
of more than $29 million for aquaculture users and senior surface and
spring water users. But groundwater users would see a loss of more
than $234 million statewide -- along with an estimated 3,600 jobs.
If those with water rights junior to 1961 have their use
curtailed, the study found, the net effect would be a loss of more
than $130 million statewide, along with more than 2,000 jobs.
"The economic impacts of curtailment of junior irrigation ground
water rights under either of the curtailment scenarios, assuming
steady state conditions, are anticipated to be five times larger than
combined gains enjoyed by surface/spring water holders," Snyder said.
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