About 565,000 acres of irrigated land on the Eastern Snake River Plain could be dried up if a trout farm prevails in an upcoming water call case now before the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
For years, a water call filed by Rangen Inc., of Hagerman, Idaho, was dismissed as futile due to the tiny amount of water the company stood to receive, as calculated using the state's Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer groundwater model, known by the acronym ESPAM 1.1.
But IDWR's release last year of a new model—ESPAM 2.1—has upped the ante in Rangen's claims of injury and set into motion a high-stakes battle that could impact Idaho water law for years to come.
"This could affect probably more than half of the agricultural production on the Eastern Snake Plain," said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Inc., whose members would be most affected by Rangen's water call.
The Rangen case is scheduled to be heard during the first two weeks of May, with IDWR Director Gary Spackman presiding as the hearing officer. Experts say it will set precedents regarding ESPAM 2.1. It will also weigh the concept under Idaho appropriation law of "first in time, first in right" against the need to optimize beneficial uses of the state's water.
Rangen is seeking to curtail all pumpers with priority dates junior to 1962 drawing from the vast aquifer, which covers about 11,000 square miles of Southeast Idaho. The decision may still be appealed in district court, and the parties involved acknowledge a mitigation agreement would likely head off any curtailment.
“You have to shut down the entire ESPA to get very little water down to that spring," Tominaga said of the case.
SOURCE: John O’Connell, Capital Press