U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- Sophisticated new computer technology is now being added to the tool kit of state water rights agents sorting out more than 160,000 water right claims filed in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA), the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) has announced.
The advanced Geographic Information System (GIS) equipment will combine enormous amounts of geographical data about an area with satellite imagery and aerial photography. The resulting information will give agents the ability to pinpoint and match water right claims to the specific land area covered by the claim with a degree of accuracy never before possible, SRBA officials said.
The new GIS capability will begin this month at IDWR offices around the state. Officials say it's a quantum leap forward in the agency's ability to precisely align individual water rights to the land on which it is used, and a whole lot more.
"Imagine you want to know about the water rights that exist on a specific parcel of land you might want to buy or develop," said Dave Tuthill, SRBA manager for the Idaho Department of Water Resources. "Now imagine you are able to look at that parcel on a computer monitor and see exactly what water rights exist, where they are located and how they are being used. That's eventually what we will be able to do," Tuthill said.
The GIS process also provides water agents an added dimension in serving the public. "It also allows us to add to the water right various additional layers of information such as roads, stream channels, well locations, canals, development, etc. This is the kind of extra informational dimension we will now be able to offer the public and land use planners," Tuthill added.
Idaho's water right information has been computerized since the 1970s. However, it is in a tabular database format that operates on the basis of what's known as a quarter-quarter section, a 40-acre parcel.
That limitation means, for example, if there were four water rights on file for that parcel, each claiming 10 acres under irrigation, there is no practical, easy way to establish which part of the 40-acre block was covered by what right, officials said. This can become an extremely important matter in water right areas where claims cover parcels as small as five acres.
However, the GIS technology now will give IDWR water agents the capability to identify individual water rights down to an area as small as one acre. It will also help IDWR determine when more land is being irrigated than is authorized by the conditions of the water right. Overusing a water right is a sensitive issue in Idaho, especially where all available water has been appropriated and often must be doled out based on the priority date of the water right, said IDWR agents.
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