Eastern Idaho Pumpers To Take Hits

Published online: Mar 07, 2005
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It appears that eastern Idaho pumpers will pay the bill to mitigate the irrigation resources available this year to satisfy downstream claims to early water rights.

Some 1,300 pumps allowed in the eastern portion of the state over the last 50-plus years, including some to municipalities, residences and farmers, may be forced to give up one-third of their pump water to answer a call for water by the Twin Falls, ID, Canal Company and other entities in southern Idaho with late 1800s and early 1900s water rights.

The question is being discussed in detail in the Idaho legislature but it appears the state will turn down a proposal to pay $100 million to handle mitigation and help monitor water withdrawal.

The problem is the state appears to be entering a sixth year of drought with snowpack runoff expected to be even lower than last year. With that situation, and the Twin Falls water call, upstream irrigators with junior water rights will have to make the adjustments.

The state may agree to facilitate an agreement but non-rural legislators are very opposed to step in with tax dollars to to help with rural water problems.

This scenario marks a series of "firsts" for the state as never before have irrigators, water managers and facilitators ever faced this kind of dilemma and faced water calls on the Snake River.

One alternative is to pay off high-lift pumpers in the Hagerman, ID, area of southern Idaho to guarantee greater downstream flow in the lower half of the Snake River. Coming up with money at a time growers are buying seed and fetilizer and getting ready to plant will put many growers at further risk.

Canal companies have always said they would pay their fair share of mitigation costs but they believe the state should be responsible for administration and others costs.

Lower Snake River canal companies believe that over the years the Snake River aquifer has been drawn down by 500,000-acre-feet per year. The aquifer has been reported to be the size of Lake Erie with most of it under the lava flows of central Idaho.

There is speculation that pumpers in southern Idaho on the north side of the Snake River Canyon have pulled heavily on water tables, resulting in the present lower returns to the canyon. Upstream users have at times tried to augment the aquifer at times of heavy runoff by running canal water into the lava rifts.