Idaho water officials enforce curtailment order
U.S. Water News Online
WENDELL, Idaho — Idaho water officials fanned out across southern Idaho to check if farms and businesses were complying with an order to shut off groundwater wells.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources issued a curtailment order on targeting 250 water right holders in parts of seven counties, across 9,000 acres.
The order stems from a legal dispute over groundwater pumping and marks the first time the state has followed through on an edict requiring the closure of wells that irrigate crops and supply cheese factories, cities and golf courses with water.
A group of eight Idaho Department of Water Resources employees met in Twin Falls on recently and coordinated efforts for checking on groundwater users and making sure the curtailment order was being enforced.
Inspectors mostly stayed in their vehicles to avoid trespassing, but the inspections will likely become more invasive and could result in tough penalties for violators, said Cindy Yenter, who supervises districts for the Department of Water Resources in southern Idaho.
“We decided to keep everybody off private land,” Cindy Yenter told The Times-News.
Water officials expect some groundwater users to resist the curtailment order and the agency is proceeding with caution and enforcement of the rule will not be immediate, Yenter said.
“Sometimes until you knock on their door they don't get real serious about compliance,” she said. “I almost expected people with crops in the field to keep pumping until we notify them officially that they need to quit.”
The curtailment order stems from a water call filed in 2005 by Clear Springs Foods, which operates a trout farm near Hagerman. The company contends increased pumping in recent decades from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer has decreased flows it is legally owed and gets from natural springs.
The company has senior water rights, and in Idaho, like many other western states, those with older claims trump the legal rights of those with junior claims.
The state initially issued its curtailment order in March, then pulled it back when the groundwater pumpers proposed a relief plan that included spending several million dollars to build a pipeline to deliver water to the trout farm.
But the trout farm objected to the pipeline, opting instead to wait for a court ruling on the dispute. Clear Springs and the groundwater pumpers then agreed in May to delay the pipeline.
The department changed course last month after learning the groundwater pumpers had converted fewer than half of the 9,300 acres to surface water as promised in the deal.
Interim director Gary Spackman issued the shutdown order July 22.
During the inspection, Yenter estimated water officials surveyed about 95 percent of the 9,000 acres. There were not many examples of water curtailment, but many of the groundwater users rely on alternative water sources.
Department of Water Resources employees will meet to discuss how to continue with the curtailment order, agency spokesman Bob McLaughlin.