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State Approves Recharge Infrastructure Projects

by John O'Connell
Capital Press, June 1, 2015

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -- The Idaho Water Resource Board has approved $6.25 million to finance six infrastructure projects designed to broaden the state's Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer recharge capacity.

The funding, approved during a May 21-22 meeting, was part of $10.5 million in the Water Board's Fiscal Year 2016 budget to promote aquifer stabilization statewide. Some of the revenue was authorized by the 2014 Legislature, while other funds came from cigarette tax dollars that will be allocated annually to the Water Board.

Once completed, the new infrastructure should increase the state's annual recharge capacity from about 75,000 acre feet to 200,000 acre feet, said Idaho Department of Water Resources Water Planning Bureau Chief Brian Patton.

Patton said additional projects are planned to help the state meet its commitment to average 250,000 acre feet of annual recharge. The state's goal was included in a pending proposal to settle a water call by irrigation companies with the Surface Water Coalition against junior groundwater users, seeking a long-term plan to avoid well curtailment while stabilizing aquifer declines.

Patton said work on many of the project's should commence this fall, and the major project on the list, involving the Milner-Gooding Canal, should be completed and ready to carry recharge water after this winter.

"We're definitely getting the push from the governor's office and other legislative leadership to prioritize shovel-ready projects that will enhance our ability to maximize recharge as soon as possible," Patton said.

He explained the projects fall into two categories. Upper basin projects -- including an enlargement of Fremont-Madison Irrigation District's Egin Canal to handle increased flow volumes and infrastructure to utilize gravel pits for recharge along the Great Feeder Canal -- are intended to maximize recharge of spring flood-control releases from the reservoir system. Projects in the lower basin seek to increase capacity of a new winter recharge program, involving a state water right that turns on at the end of the irrigation season.

The Milner-Gooding project, which entails overhauling a concrete flume to accommodate winter flows to a recharge site near Shoshone, should add 50,000 acre feet of winter recharge capacity.

Louis Zamora, of Twin Falls Canal Co., said the funding will cover maintenance and staff costs to allow his company to keep water in an 8-mile stretch of its canal and Murtaugh Lake year-round, recharging at least 14,000 acre feet into the aquifer through seepage.

Upgrades to Northside Canal will allow winter recharge water to bypass hydro-power turbines, and state-owned recharge infrastructure will be built upstream of Milner Dam.

The board also approved $1.2 million for aquifer and water-quality monitoring and for payments to defray irrigation companies' costs of conducting recharge. Another $1 million was allocated for work in other Idaho priority aquifers.

The board allocated $200,000 for a pilot project proposed by Chairman Roger Chase. Chase explained the fund will award competitive grants, capped at $20,000 and requiring two-thirds matches, to help cities, school districts and other small water users implement water conservation measures.

"We're excited the state has really stepped up, because the state is recognizing we've got to recharge the aquifer," Chase said.

John O'Connell
State Approves Recharge Infrastructure Projects
Capital Press, June 1, 2015

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