Southern Idaho Pumpers Won't be Bailed Outby Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune, May 8, 2004
BOISE -- Federal water will not be used to bail out 1,300 groundwater users before the Bureau of Reclamation first flushes young salmon down the Snake River and then meets contracts with surface-water irrigators, officials said.
Reclamation Commissioner John Keys told lawmakers Thursday that after the 427,000 acre-feet of water is used to help fish reach the Pacific Ocean, there might not be enough remaining to recharge southern Idaho's parched aquifer. An acre-foot of water is enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep with water.
The announcement came just one day after Idaho Power Co. executives refused to give up any of their substantial water rights to help the drained aquifer.
Keys said the department applied for state water use permits just like other water users. Because it does not have federal reserve water rights in Idaho, he said the state should not look for federal assistance.
"We feel the state of Idaho needs to take the lead," Keys said. "The state of Idaho issued the water permits that caused the problem in the first place."
A committee of legislators is meeting regularly to find a solution after spring water users holding older water rights clashed this spring with groundwater pumpers. Although the committee is charged with evaluating the statewide water situation, its focus has been the Snake River aquifer, a potentially devastating situation that has also caused concern among statewide conservation groups.
Idaho Rivers United Director Bill Sedivy said the state should act quickly to resolve depleting the aquifer by well users. "We've got to take the straws out of the soda cup," Sedivy said.
One possible solution would be to raise the Minidoka Dam level, a plan that could provide 5,000 acre feet of water to area users. But Reclamation Regional Director William McDonald said plausibility studies would take about five years and cost more than $100 million.
Lawmakers are concerned about increasing costs because the penny sales tax increase is due to expire next year. Earlier this year, the state spent about $2 million to head off the water crisis, and lawmakers are betting on spending more in January, if not sooner.
In eleventh-hour legislation this year, legislators scurried to develop a solution to stop the shutting off of water to nearly 1,300 south central Idaho groundwater users.
The legislation made a multimillion-dollar commitment to a temporary resolution of the dispute between well pumpers and surface water users.
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