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Snake Aquifer Recharge Project Moves Ahead

by Associated Press
Capital Press, July 7, 2006

If it works, project could serve as template for future

WENDELL, Idaho - By next spring, 20 dry acres of sagebrush and cheatgrass near Wendell will sparkle with water from the North Side Canal Company. State officials are hoping the diverted water will percolate through the soil, seeping into the aquifer below.

If the state's first aquifer recharge project is successful, the property above the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer could become a template for similar efforts across the state.

"It's just a perfect site for a pilot project," Dave Blew with the Idaho Department of Water Resources told The Times-News. "We think this site is fairly similar to other sites on the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. We're going to try to develop sites farther down into the plain."

Changes in irrigation practices, groundwater pumping and several years of drought have taken a toll on the aquifer, and the aquifer's dropping water levels have led to squabbles and lawsuits between water users.

Hydrologists with the Idaho Department of Water Resources have developed a model that suggests most of the water pushed into the soils near Wendell will return to the springs near Devil's Washbowl and Thousand Springs. But it's not clear just how long it will take the water to return to the aquifer.

If the effort works, state officials may open other recharge sites around Southern Idaho.

Experiments like this one should have been a priority all along, said Idaho Power Company vice president Greg Panter. This year alone, Panter estimated, the state allowed 180,000 acre feet of water that could have been used for recharge to flow down the Snake River and out of Idaho.

But not all consider Panter to be on the side of recharge. During the 2006 Legislature, Panter and Idaho Power battled with House Speaker Bruce Newcomb over a bill that would have given priority to using water for recharge over its use for hydropower generation.

Newcomb said his bill would have allowed the state to reclaim its own water for recharge, while Panter claimed it would simply lead to higher power bills for more than 455,000 Idaho Power customers. The bill failed in the Senate, but Clive Strong with the Idaho attorney general's office still managed to find two water rights entitling the state to up to 2,000 cubic feet per second of water for recharge.

Using those water rights, the Wendell recharge project will be under way primarily in the early spring and late fall. The site is expected to handle about 10,000 acre feet of water a year, Blew said.

Associated Press
Snake Aquifer Recharge Project Moves Ahead
Capital Press, July 7, 2006

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