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Commentaries and editorials

Idahoans Need to Face Up
to the Fact that Water is Scarce

by Bill Sedivy
The Idaho Statesman, May 28, 2004

Bill Sedivy is executive director of Idaho Rivers United, a non-profit, statewide river conservation organization. There is no longer any doubt. Because of over-appropriation of water rights, decades of overuse, and four years of drought, many places in Idaho are running out of water.

Areas served by aquifers under Mountain Home, the Bear River Basin in southeast Idaho and the Snake River Plain Aquifer in south-central Idaho are in crisis. There isn't enough water in those places to water crops, keep lawns green, generate power, meet the needs of trout farms, and keep rivers healthy for fish and wildlife.

Even in Boise's Treasure Valley, where underground water supplies are sufficient for the moment, growing populations will double water consumption by 2025.

The Idaho Legislature created a special interim committee in March to find solutions to the Snake River Plain Aquifer crisis, a crisis that nearly forced the shutdown of 750 groundwater wells this year.

Chaired by Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly, and Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, the committee wisely chose to examine water shortages statewide. Committee leaders also have done a good job examining the scope of the problem, calling on experts from the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here's what committee members are learning:

So what direction should the interim committee look now?

Before moving forward, committee members and all Idahoans must acknowledge a few facts:

  1. There will be no quick fix for Idaho's chronic water shortage. It took decades to create the problem, and it will take time to fix it.
  2. River health and the needs of fish and wildlife cannot be ignored.
  3. The amount of water in Idaho is declining. Climate experts say that spring snowpack has declined 11 percent since the 1950s, and will decline 40 percent by 2050.
  4. Building additional dams won't create new water.
  5. This issue impacts far more than agriculture. Idaho produces many valuable commodities, including microchips and salmon, upon which communities and families depend. Available water must be managed for a diverse economy.
  6. Finally, Idahoans must learn to use less water. Per capita, Idahoans use 13,000 gallons daily more than residents of any other state except Wyoming.
Only if we recognize where we are and acknowledge the mistakes of the past can we start working toward realistic solutions.

Figuring out how to use less water is a good place to start. Programs that encourage residential and domestic water conservation are needed, along with creative incentives for residential property owners and farmers to save water. Pilot programs to showcase water-conserving landscaping are long overdue, particularly in towns where excessive groundwater pumping is depleting aquifers.

The myth we have long held in Idaho that we have limitless water supplies is wrong. Residents of southern Idaho live in a desert. It's time that we use water more deliberately, more conservatively, and with more concern for the health of our rivers, streams and aquifers. Only by doing so can we save our most productive lands for farming, and sustain the diverse economy needed for our future.


Bill Sedivy is executive director of Idaho Rivers United, a non-profit, statewide river conservation organization.
Idahoans Need to Face Up to the Fact that Water is Scarce
The Idaho Statesman, June 3, 2004

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