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Suit Targets Snake Flows

by Dave Wilkins
Capital Press, May 18, 2007

Utility company wants state to renegotiate

Add a lawsuit by Idaho Power Co. to the growing list of challenges facing the Idaho Department of Water Resources and its new director.

The company filed suit last week in 5th District Court, demanding that the state renegotiate the 1984 Swan Falls agreement that gave the utility rights to flows in the Snake River.

It's just the latest of many challenges facing the department, director Dave Tuthill said in an interview this week.

Gov. Butch Otter appointed Tuthill director of the department on April 17 during the Idaho Water Summit.

Some participants had hoped that a major agreement could be worked out during the summit between surface and spring water users and groundwater pumpers, but none materialized.

Since then at least two lawsuits have been filed challenging state water policy.

Tuthill said the department is dealing with five separate issues simultaneously: a water call by surface water users; a water call by spring users; a water call by the A&B Irrigation District; the formulation of a comprehensive management plan for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer and, lastly, the lawsuit filed by Idaho Power.

All of the water calls contend that groundwater users with junior water rights are harming other users with more senior rights.

A groundwater model developed by the state has confirmed that junior groundwater diversions have had a negative impact on senior water rights holders, but the amount of injury is still at issue.

Complicating matters this year is a lack of snowpack and a projected tight irrigation season.

"We're facing these issues in a year that is very dry," Tuthill said.

Not only that, but the parties involved in the disputes have been at it a long time and have established some fairly entrenched positions, he said.

Those factors combined make it "very challenging to come up with a resolution," he said.

On May 8, Fifth District Judge John Butler issued a temporary restraining order preventing the IDWR from shutting off water to junior groundwater pumpers in the Thousand Springs area after the IDWR sent out warning letters.

A hearing has been scheduled for May 30.

Tuthill said he is still prepared to curtail groundwater pumpers if all else fails.

"I don't want to do that," he said. "There are many losers when curtailment happens. I think there are better solutions."

One long-term solution may be to improve the state's reservoir system, Tuthill said.

"If we can do a better job of capturing the water surplus in times of plenty we'll have more in times of scarcity," he said.

Tuthill said there have been some encouraging developments lately.

A policy summit May 8-9 on the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington yielded positive results, he said.

And a new advisory committee overseeing the ESPA comprehensive management plan held a successful first meeting May 10 in Pocatello, he said.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Suit Targets Snake Flows
Capital Press, May 18, 2007

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