2005 Proved Historic Water Yearby Cindy Snyder, Ag Weekly correspondent
The Times-News, December 24, 2005
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- From spring rains to water agreements, 2005 was a historic year in many ways for southern Idaho water users.
"Our biggest issue this year was that it rained and saved our hides this spring," said Ted Diehl, manager of the North Side Canal Co. in Jerome.
"That was a real big plus. We were looking at a 50 percent water supply and ended up going to 100 percent. That was a great windfall for us."
The entire Upper Snake reservoir system ended the 2005 irrigation season with 500,000 acre-feet more water in storage than it had in 2004.
"We've always said spring moisture would make or break our water forecasts," said Ron Abramovich, a hydrologist with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise.
This spring definitely broke some forecasts -- most notably on the Salmon River Canal Co. tract where an early April forecast of 0.25 acre-feet per share turned into 0.8 acre-feet per share by season's end.
While the rains helped fill reservoirs and stretched irrigation water supplies, the rains did not erase the water shortages that have plagued water users for five years. A coalition of seven irrigation entities in southern Idaho made a water delivery call last January. Both surface and groundwater users spent much of the year gathering information about water use and deficiencies for the hearings that are scheduled to begin in March.
After years of negotiation, water-right claims by the Nez Perce Tribe were finally resolved when the Legislature approved the Nez Perce Agreement. In exchange for minimum streamflows in the Clearwater and Salmon rivers and a consumptive water right for the reservation, the Tribe waived forever its claims to water in the Snake River. The $193 million settlement also provided funds for water improvement projects on the reservation, a land swap and cash for investments.
History also was made this summer when the state bought water rights for the first time. Lawmakers approved a deal to buy 75,000 acre-feet of water from the Bell Rapids Mutual Irrigation Co. at a cost of $310 per acre-foot.
Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley and speaker of the House, said the buyout ensures there will always be water available for salmon-recovery efforts. Given a decision by a federal judge in Oregon in late 2005 that the Bonneville Power Administration is not managing for salmon recovery, the buyout looks even better. If the judge's decision stands, BPA could be forced to operate the four lower Snake River dams as if they have been breached.
That has consequences both in terms of potential power rates and shipping.
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