Irrigators Will Try to Rent Out
BOISE -- Idaho irrigators are searching for water to lease to the federal government to show good faith in a sweeping new agreement approved Saturday with the Nez Perce Tribe.
Canal companies and irrigation districts serving more than 1.5 million acres of farmland are taking steps to keep the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from facing new restrictions to its dam operations on the Snake, Boise and Payette rivers under the Endangered Species Act.
"It's a real positive commitment," said Jerrold Gregg, manager of the bureau's Snake River Area Office.
They also are trying to adhere to their commitment to supply 427,000 acre-feet of water annually for the Nez Perce pact. Under the terms of the deal, the tribe will drop all its claims under an old treaty to nearly all the water in the Snake River Basin.
In exchange, the federal government and the state made commitments to ensure that at least 427,000 acre-feet of water from southern Idaho are available annually to increase flows for salmon and steelhead.
That amount of water is enough to keep Shoshone Falls near Twin Falls flowing at full-bore for more than two days.
The farmers with water rights in the federal reservoirs on the Snake River will be paid to lease their water, which could mean drying up some of their land. But the reservoirs are only filled to about half of their 4 million-acre-foot capacity this year, severely limiting the water available for sale and every other purpose.
Earlier this week, a committee representing dozens of canal companies and irrigation districts told federal officials it would meet a goal to provide 3 percent of its available water -- up to 100,000 acre-feet -- this year to increase flows on the Snake River for migrating salmon.
The water is released in the late summer to increase the flow of the Snake River below Hells Canyon and aid the migration of fall chinook, protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The Bureau of Reclamation will not know until July whether it will reach its goal, which it has not done since 2000 because of the continuing drought. But the committee's decision increases its chances, Gregg said.
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