Idaho Irrigators May Make It Through Season

Published online: Apr 22, 2005
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Many Idaho irrigators are breathing a sigh of relief today as it appears most will manage to get through the irrigation season without any shut offs--entering the sixth year of drought in the state. This is being called a 500-year event.

The only exceptions could be groundwater pumpers on the north side of the Snake River in the Magic Valley and in the American Falls/Aberdeen/Idaho Falls areas of southeast Idaho.

Thanks to some great "water attorneys," a complicated game of "water chess," and a major effort of ground pumpers to buy or lease water rights, it appears most will survive to harvest.

With most of the seven Twin Falls canal companies taking their rightful streamflow on April 1, they gave notice to irrigators all the way up the Snake River Valley that they will get their decreed allotments.

Twin Falls canal companies had originally asked for 600,000 acre-feet of water they believed they were deficit last year. After days of negotiations between attorneys representing different segments of the irrigation system, Department of Water Resources Director Karl Dreher lowered the figure to 133,000 acre feet.

But just today, Dreher said irrigators would only have to come up with 27,700 acre feet during this irrigation sesaon.

So while the short-term needs appear to be met, in the long-term groundwater pumpers will have to make up an additional 101,000 acre feet. No deadline has been set for that water delivery but Dreher said it was in the irrigator's best interests to give it to surface-water irrigators as soon as possible.

The call for water by the Twin Falls canal companies made in January will be made up in several ways. The groundwater pumpers association has purchased 23,000 acre feet to date from growers or others who were willing sellers/renters, with another 5,000 acre feet in negotiations.

Pumpers in the American Falls/Aberdeen area with junior water rights are sweating out the weather for more moisture and their need to give up pumping.The groundwter pumpers have until April 29 to come up with their share of the water.

The IDWR ruling will affect 860 people, businesses and organizations with water rights later than Feb. 27, 1979, in Water District 120 which extends from American Falls to north of Idaho Falls. But all groundwater pumpers in the two districts will have to financially help in the cost of obtaining the water whether they have senior or junior ground-pumping rights.

In the Magic Valley, another 437 groundwater pumpers with rights later than 1979 in water District 130 from west of Twin Falls to American Falls on the north side of the Snake River will also have to contribute to the water order.

The weather has cooperated over the last two weeks, dropping additional snow to the mountain snowpack and hitting several areas with nice amounts of snow and rain. In addition, the cooler weather has not rushed the need for irrigation of early crops.