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Drought Renews Interest in Dams

by Dave Wilkins, Idaho Staff Writer
Capital Press, November 26, 2004

BOISE -- With the Western drought now entering its fifth year, some folks in Idaho are taking a serious look at ways to store more water.

Building a new dam or increasing the height of existing dams could provide more water for agriculture, industry and hydropower generation, officials at a water conference said last week.

Raising the height of both Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch dams on the Boise River could provide an additional 30,000 to 60,000 acre feet of storage water, said Jerrold Gregg, area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“It’s cheaper to raise existing dams than it is to build new ones,” Gregg told those attending the annual conference organized by the Idaho Water Users Association.

Lake Lowell, an offstream irrigation storage reservoir in southwestern Idaho, could also provide some additional storage, either through management changes during the offseason or by raising the height of the dam, Gregg said.

The lake has a 1903 diversion right during the non-irrigation season.

“I think we have an opportunity to look at how we operate Lake Lowell in conjunction with upstream reservoirs and maybe gain 30,000 to 40,000 acre feet,” Gregg said. “It’s something to look at.”

The lingering drought and continued development around Southern Idaho towns like Boise, Pocatello, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls makes additional water storage a crucial issue, Gregg said.

The Boise Valley has been growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s important to have more water storage, not just for agriculture, but for flood control and power generation, he said.

Gregg used the town of Meridian, a small bedroom community near Boise, as an example.

Meridian had just 8,500 people in 1987. Four years ago, a local planning group projected that the town would grow to 55,000 by the year 2025.

It’s already there, 20 years ahead of schedule.

New projections have Meridian’s population pegged at 105,000 and the greater Boise Valley at about 1 million residents by the year 2025.

“That’s tremendous growth,” Gregg said. “That’s an issue that irrigation districts and water users are really wrestling with.”

Many of the new subdivisions going up in the Boise Valley are being built with pressured irrigation systems for gardens and lawns.

Several studies over the past decade or so have looked at building new dams in the region as a means of meeting the growing water demand.

Although technically possible, new dam construction would surely run into strong opposition and would be very expensive if approved.

A 1997 feasibility study estimated that it would cost about $700 million to build a large dam west of Ontario, Ore., capable of storing about 300,000 acre feet.

U.S. Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, who spoke to the group via video, said construction of new dams should be considered, although he acknowledged that many people feel those days are past.

Otter helped organize a group in southwest Idaho to look at different methods of adding more reservoir storage to the region.

The group has involved municipalities, industry, irrigation districts and the BuRec.

“When these local municipalities and industries start to figure out that their potential growth is going to be limited by the amount of water that’s available, I think we’re going to find some allies with us at the table,” Otter said.

“If we can store more of this water, if we can build another dam, if we can increase the height of another dam, then we can all have enough water to satisfy all of these competing uses,” he said.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Drought Renews Interest in Dams
Capital Press, November 26, 2004

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