U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- Southwestern Idaho's rapidly growing urban
center has sufficient water resources to meet its needs for the next
quarter century, experts agree, but they are looking to science and
technology to head off a crisis after that.
"Ultimately, we in the valley have to decide how best to use our
water," said Jerry Gregg, who manages the Snake River area for the
federal Bureau of Reclamation.
His agency has financed the state Water Resources Department's
computer modeling study that looks at the region's economic growth
and the interaction with water resources depending on the decisions
policy makers come to on water allocation.
"These models should help us make better choices," he said.
The study predicts demand for domestic, commercial, municipal and
industrial water will jump 74 percent in the next two decades. It
outlines two ways of dealing with the pressure &emdash; new
reservoirs and aquifer recharge to increase the annual supply of
stored water or improved water efficiency and a market for
transferring water from farm to residential and industrial uses.
The computer models assess the impact of those kinds of decisions.
If less water, for example, is used in irrigation where some of
the flow goes back into the aquifer, there would be less water
available to those relying on the aquifer.
If demand from all water users keeps rising, then those who can
afford to pay more for water would be able to buy it from those whose
own use of the water generates less cash. That could increase
efficiency and reduce the need for boosting supply, the experts
"When you're charged more for water, you are going to use less,"
said Garth Taylor, an economist at the University of Idaho.
Gregg acknowledges that some farmers realize that kind of market
threatens their future because it will prove that water is worth more
supporting industry than it is growing crops.
But Gary Chamberlain, a Challis rancher who serves on the Idaho
Water Resource Board, said those realities must be made clear and
tools like the new computer models are critical to reaching the tough
decisions that will come with growth.
"I know some hotheads in my country who won't like it because they
know what it means," he said. "L.A. doesn't have orange groves any
more because the water is worth too much to grow oranges."
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