U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho Department of Water Resources has
sent another batch of warning letters, telling more than 700
groundwater users their pumps could be shut down later this month to
ensure water for users with more senior rights.
It's the second separate curtailment notice issued this month by
department Director David Tuthill to farmers, dairymen, businesses
and towns that draw water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
Department scientists this week rejected a proposal submitted by
groundwater users to set aside some of the supplies sought by seven
senior rights holders, Tuthill said.
"I have no choice but to issue these warning letters because the
mitigation plan proposed thus far is insufficient based on existing
(department) orders," he said.
Earlier this month, the department sent out warning letters to
hundreds of groundwater users spread across more than 35,000 acres in
the Magic Valley. Those letters set May 14 as the deadline to begin
shutting down pumps unless users could agree on a plan to divert
enough water to satisfy two Idaho trout farms with senior rights.
Those groundwater users then sued the state, asking a judge to
keep the water flowing. Fifth District Judge John Butler complied,
issuing a temporary restraining order. He also scheduled a hearing
May 30 to hear arguments on the state's curtailment plan.
The warning notices were sent to 760 individual water users spread
across more than 46,000 acres across a broad swath of south central
and eastern Idaho. The order targets wells that nourish crops and
supply cities, dairy operations and others stretching from Jerome in
the west to Idaho Falls in the east, as far south as American Falls
and north to Arco and Dubois, according to a map provided by the
The latest warning letter, setting a deadline later this month,
was prompted by water delivery calls filed in 2005 by the Surface
Water Coalition, a group of seven surface rights holders.
The coalition members include: the A & B Irrigation District,
American Falls Reservoir District No. 2, Burley Irrigation District,
Milner Irrigation District, Minidoka Irrigation District, North Side
Canal Co. and Twin Falls Canal Co.
Since 2005, the groundwater users have managed to divert enough
water to supply those senior rights holders, but low snowpack and
drought forecasts have renewed the battle for the resource.
State water law is grounded in legal precedent that favors users
with the oldest water rights, typically those who divert from surface
sources like rivers. In times of need, the state can step in to shut
down users with junior rights to guarantee supplies to senior right
holders, Tuthill said.
A spokesman for the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, which
represents hundreds of irrigators and 13 cities and towns, said
members have not had a chance to analyze the potential impacts of the
latest curtailment warning.
"We have not had a chance to study the ruling and won't make any
determination about it until we've had time to study it and make a
measured response," said spokesman Mike Journee.
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