U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- A proposal to spend up to $100 million to
resolve south-central Idaho's water conflict is drawing concerns from
Urban lawmakers worry their constituents will be forced to bear a
disproportionate share of the financial burden for what seems, at
least initially a regional problem.
"If they come up with a deal and want these urban districts to pay
a bill for a problem in Twin Falls, I don't think it's going to fly,"
state Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, said.
But deep-well irrigators fear their share of the costs may be too
heavy a burden for them to survive.
The spring users, primarily the commercial fish hatcheries who
have suffered the most because of the declining natural flows,
question whether the plan will really resolve the competition between
groundwater and surface water users.
And Idaho Power Co., which holds the largest right to water
flowing in the Snake River downstream from the target area, wants to
make sure any plan to recharge the huge Snake River Plain Aquifer
does not affect its rights -- and consequently its customer bills.
The water supply once believed to be limitless in the Middle Snake
River region has been undermined by five years of drought and
increased irrigation by deep wells drilled into the aquifer that lies
beneath about 10,000 square miles. They are being blamed for reducing
the natural flows to Thousand Springs, which feeds the Snake.
Early this year, the hatcheries asserted their legal right to
demand their full water right. They ultimately agreed to give the
state a year to find a solution. If one is not developed, they have
indicated they will reassert their demand for full water rights,
which would force 1,300 irrigation wells to be shut down at an
economic loss to the region of up to $900 million.
That would likely ignite a legal battle that would cast
uncertainty over the region for years.
The latest plan to emerge from a special state committee calls for
floating up to $100 million in state-backed bonds to buy up the water
rights of some users in an attempt to bring demand on the aquifer
back in line with the water it can supply.
The bonds would be repaid by farmers and businesses pumping water
from the aquifer. But some believe the ramifications of the issue
extend well beyond the south-central Idaho region and justify people
in the rest of the state picking up part of the tab. The issue on a
smaller scale faces other areas of the state as well.
Some urban lawmakers facing transportation bottlenecks and air
quality deterioration want to know where is the statewide concern for
The water conflict in south-central Idaho "is a very critical
problem. It just doesn't happen to be the only one," state Sen. John
Andreason, R-Boise, said.
But House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, who operates a ranch in the
Burley area, argued that failing to resolve the conflict would not
only make financing for farms and businesses in the region difficult
but the economic disruption would significantly reduce state tax
revenues while increasing demand for services.
Still Republican Rep. Ken Roberts, an outspoken conservative who
farms near Donnelly, warned that the proposal sets a dangerous
precedent for state bailouts of others in the future.
"I am going to fight that agreement very hard," Roberts said.
"It's like Chrysler. We're doing a bailout for some farmers in
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