Idahoans Need to Face Up
by Bill Sedivy
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:
Before moving forward, committee members — and all Idahoans — must acknowledge a few facts:
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.
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