Work Group Focuses on
by John O'Connell
A special work group is investigating options to resurrect legislation to
implement a system awarding credits for aquifer recharge efforts in Idaho.
BOISE -- A special Idaho Water Users Association work group aims to resurrect legislation creating a system of mitigation credits for Eastern Snake Plain aquifer recharge efforts.
Water users had a series of meetings on the topic and drafted a bill they hoped to introduce during the 2014 legislative session. Idaho Department of Water Resources Planning Bureau Chief Brian Patton explained the consensus "fell apart" at the last minute, due largely to concerns of some participants that the bill had the potential to open new agricultural land to irrigation.
The current bid to pass recharge credit legislation originated in November, when the water association's executive director, Norm Semanko, asked his legislative committee if there was any interest in revisiting the concept, Patton said. The work group that the legislative committee assigned to draft a bill met on Dec. 17 and is scheduled to meet again on Jan. 20, before the association's annual meeting in Boise.
Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Groundwater Appropriators, Inc., said the work group will consider two proposals during the upcoming meeting -- one that would allow mitigation credits for new municipal, commercial and industrial uses and another that would also allow credits for those uses plus supplemental water for current irrigated agricultural land. He said the majority of work group members support using credits for new municipal, commercial and industrial irrigation. The group plans to solicit an opinion from the attorney general about the legality of its intentions to prohibit credits from opening new irrigated agricultural land.
IDWR Deputy Director Mat Weaver said the department supported the failed draft legislation and acknowledges the importance of establishing a credit system.
Idaho Water Board Chairman Roger Chase said the concept of a recharge credit system has merit, provided that it doesn't place additional demands on the aquifer.
"Breaking out new land concerns me, and using credits to break out new land concerns me a lot," Chase said.
Lynn Harmon, manager of American Falls Reservoir District No. 2, believes the goal of any aquifer recharge project should be to stabilize an Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer that's declining by 200,000 acre-feet per year on average.
"I still feel that the major portion of any recharge should go to the aquifer rehabilitation, not new uses -- say 10 percent for new use and the other 90 percent for rehabilitation," Harmon suggested.
Patton envisions that a recharge credit system could coexist with the state's current project to pay water managers fees to recharge the aquifer during winter months using a state recharge water right.
In the first year of conducting winter recharge, Patton said 25,000 acre-feet of water has been injected into the aquifer thus far, mostly through the Milner-Gooding Canal, operated by AFRD No. 2. The state shared costs with the district in building its new Milepost 31 recharge site. Patton said improvements are also underway to access roads along that canal. Twin Falls Canal Co. is also participating in winter recharge.
Patton said winter recharge has gone well, and innovations such as submersible pumps to keep headgates from freezing over have helped.
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