U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- The state's top water official is sending
an early message to thousands of southern Idaho groundwater users
that their pumps may be shut down next summer if the state logs
another winter of low mountain snowpack.
David Tuthill, director of Idaho's Department of Water Resources,
said letters will be mailed to more than 2,700 farmers, ranchers,
cities, schools and other businesses spread across a broad swath of
southern Idaho that draws water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
The letters provide advance warning that, barring a wet spring and
an above-average snowpack in Idaho's mountain ranges, cutting off
water supplies to some of those users may be the only option heading
into the 2008 growing season.
"If the projected runoff is inadequate, then curtailments likely
will be necessary," Tuthill wrote in an op-ed piece sent to
newspapers across the state.
The warning comes just months after the state nearly enforced a
shutdown of hundreds of groundwater pumps in south-central Idaho. The
prospect having their water turned off irked growers, municipalities,
dairymen and other businesses reliant on the resource.
The proposed July 6 shutdown targeted 591 water rights across more
than 16,600 acres, but was averted at the last minute when
organizations representing groundwater users came up with a plan to
buy enough water stored in reservoirs to recharge the aquifer. The
deal saved groundwater users millions of dollars they could have lost
in damaged crops, lost sales and other economic impacts.
Tuthill and some scientists say recharging the aquifer is critical
to maintaining, or in some cases increasing, flows from natural
springs, some of which provide rainbow trout farms with cold, clean
water necessary to their operations.
In recent years, flows from the springs have diminished, and some
attribute the decline to steady drawdown of the aquifer by
Frustrated by the gradual decline in flows, two Hagerman-area
trout producers -- Blue Lakes Trout Farm and Clear Springs Foods --
petitioned the state in 2005 to restrict groundwater pumping. The
state's efforts to enforce curtailment were delayed until March when
the Idaho Supreme Court ended a legal challenge over the Water
The recharge process is scheduled to begin soon. Plans call for
diverting nearly 30,000 acre feet of water from the Snake River into
a network of channels.
The hope is the water will seep through the channel beds, filter
into and raise the level of the aquifer. But it's also a process that
has never been tried locally before and there is no guarantee of
"This is an experimental process," Tuthill told the Associated
Press. "We're just not sure if we can put all of that water back into
the system. In these early stages, all we can do is monitor and
Still, the southern portion of the state continues to pay the
price of years of low snowpack and drought conditions. Last year's
snowpack in the Upper Snake River Drainage was 66 percent below
average and rain was sparse across the region again this summer.
Those conditions forced irrigators to rely even more on water stored
in reservoirs, Tuthill said.
"This was a poor water year," he said. "We have significantly
depleted the reservoirs. The risk for curtailment is higher this year
than it was last year at this time."
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