Water Board Announces
by Melissa Davlin
State water officials will spend $300,000 a year for five years to
put water from the Snake River into a vast underground aquifer
BOISE -- Since its inception, state water officials have funded an effort to repair the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer year-by-year, as money and water were available.
On Tuesday, the Idaho Water Resource Board announced a longer-term commitment to such work:a five-year, $1.5 million pilot program to put extra water from the Snake River into the aquifer. The news came on the same day as the Idaho Department of Water Resources' budget presentation to legislators, where Interim Director Gary Spackman said budget cuts have forced the department to underfund other water projects across the state.
At the presentation before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Spackman and water board Vice Chairman Roger Chase said that with severe budget cuts, IDWR has been forced to rank the department's priorities. At the top of that list is aquifer recharge, which the water board plans to address with the pilot program.
Over the next five years, the board will pay an estimated $300,000 to canal companies annually to help divert water and use it to recharge aquifers, Spackman said.
The money comes from $1.2 million the board receives each year in loan repayments from groundwater users for other projects.
House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, had previously announced plans to make aquifer recharge a bigger priority in the state. He was drafting legislation that would fund recharge with deficiency warrants -- allowing water officials to conduct recharge projects, then recoup the costs after the fact through the Legislature. Now that the board has announced its new plan, he plans to hold that legislation and wait until next year to reevaluate its need.
Tuesday's announcement is a good step, Bedke said, but the state must look toward future water needs.
"We don't have the luxury of a lot of water or a lot of money," he said.
While IDWR addresses recharge, other projects like dam safety remain underfunded, thanks to budget cuts over the last several years. The department has had to reduce its work force, implement mandatory furloughs, shift funds between accounts and reduce operating expenses.
When the department's budget was first cut, Spackman made a list of the department's priorities, ranking everything from first to last.
"So when we make decisions to where we dedicate resources, I always go back to that list," Spackman said. "And it's painful for everybody."
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