Aquifer Recharge Funds Ebb
by Dave Wilkins
Capital Press, March 17, 2011
BOISE -- State funds to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in Southern Idaho could soon dry up. Funds used by the Idaho Water Resource Board to recharge the aquifer are quickly dwindling, chairman Terry Uhling warned at the board's March 11 meeting in Boise.
"We are now getting toward the end of our dollars for recharge," Uhling said. "We are going to have to make prioritization decisions about where limited funds go."
The board has used its natural flow rights on the Snake River to conduct recharge projects the past few years. It plans to do so again this year, despite limited funds.
The board pays a conveyance fee to willing irrigation districts to move water through canals before and after the irrigation season. The intent is for the water to seep down and replenish the aquifer, which has been dwindling for years.
About $217,000 remains in the account that the board uses to pay for recharge projects, state officials said.
Water officials say the recharge effort has been successful, but with the state's tight budget situation, money is in short supply.
The water board paid seven irrigation districts a total of $277,418 to conduct managed recharge projects in 2009. That effort resulted in the recharge of about 125,000 acre-feet of surface water into the aquifer.
The board paid out $167,445 to five irrigation districts to conduct early season recharge projects in 2010, resulting in a recharge of about 56,000 acre-feet.
Since creation of a comprehensive aquifer management plan in 2006, the state has sought to find a permanent funding source for recharge and other projects, but none has been found.
The original goal was to achieve an annual change of 200,000 to 300,000 acre-feet to the aquifer through a combination of reduced demand and managed recharge.
Other water entities, including ground water districts and canal companies, can and have on occasion, contributed to the funding of recharge projects. Several issues must be resolved if ground water districts are going to contribute to manage recharge projects, said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association.
Ground water pumpers want to make sure they get sufficient credit for the recharge and that it counts toward their obligation to supply replacement water to spring users and surface water users.
While the water board wants to spread its recharge efforts around different parts of the aquifer and achieve a balance above and below American Falls Dam, ground water users seek a more targeted approach.
"We want to put the water where we get the most mitigation credit for it," Tominaga said.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs