U.S. Water News Online
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A plan groundwater users have submitted to the Idaho Department of Water Resources to avoid having irrigation water cut off includes drying up farmland on the rim of the Snake River Canyon in south-central Idaho.
Department Director Dave Tuthill scheduled a workshop to discuss the plan and said a decision on it is likely this week. Irrigation season recently started.
"Based on the plan that was received, it's not yet approvable but it has the potential to be approvable," Tuthill said.
The Magic Valley and North Snake groundwater districts submitted the plan last week to ward off a deadline this week for a water curtailment order that would have stopped them from pumping groundwater from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
The plan details how groundwater users intend to provide replacement water to Clear Springs Foods, a fish farm near Hagerman that holds senior water rights and receives its water from surface springs.
John Simpson, an attorney for Clear Springs, said the plain contains old ideas already rejected, and the workshop will be a repeat of discussions held in the past.
"This is another example that mitigation is not in time or in place by the beginning of irrigation season," he said.
According to the plan, water saved by drying up some farmland would be sent to the fish farm, an idea that was previously criticized by the fish farm. Concerns include the quality of the water for growing fish.
Other ideas include pumping water from the fish farm back up to the top of the canyon.
Tuthill told groundwater users they should consider selling bonds — perhaps worth $500,000 — to pay for the proposed projects, so they can be completed soon.
"It's one thing to develop a plan and it's another to follow through with a plan," Tuthill said.
Randy Budge, an attorney for the groundwater users, said he could address Tuthill's concerns at the workshop. He also said Clear Springs Foods was holding up the process.
"It is quite unfortunate, and indeed somewhat ironic that the very party who is complaining of a water shortage and has demanded mitigation for that water shortage seems to oppose every effort made to deliver them water," he said. "So perhaps the best thing that might come out of this workshop is the answer to what is acceptable to Clear Springs."
Idaho law distributes water rights on a first-come, first-served basis, and the fish farm has an older, or senior, water right compared with the 865 junior water rights held by roughly 430 farmers, municipalities and others in the area.
A curtailment would affect about 41,000 acres of irrigated land, along with water pumped for industrial, municipal, commercial and other uses, in Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties.
The aquifer being fought over stretches from Hagerman to St. Anthony and is one of the state's critical resources, annually irrigating more than 2.1 million acres.
Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, estimated that a curtailment could cause more than $100 million in damage to the south-central Idaho economy.
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