State to Propose Water Management
by Associated Press
Plan balances needs between water users and suppliers
TWIN FALLS, Idaho - In the wake of state Supreme Court hearings on a case that could decide who gets access to water in Eastern Idaho, the state is preparing to unveil its legislative proposal for managing one of the state's most precious resources.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources' plan is expected to be released Jan. 8. It will suggest changes to Idaho water law to the Legislature, which is expected to reshape management of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer during the upcoming session.
The department hired CDR Associates of Boulder, Colo., to write a plan that would balance the needs of water users and suppliers to create a sustainable system.
The push for new water legislation has been spurred by the Supreme Court fight over what's left of the depleted Snake Plain Aquifer, which supplies water to the eastern and southern parts of the state.
"Right now, it's all in the hands of the facilitators," said Michael Keckler, a spokesman for the water resources department.
Water levels in the Lake Erie-sized aquifer have been steadily declining since the 1950s, when farmers began drilling wells to pump water. The springs that emerged naturally from the aquifer more than 50 years ago have been slowly drying out.
The Legislature has tried but failed several times to pass aquifer-related legislation.
The high court is deciding whether those with older, more senior water rights are assured their supply when water runs low, even at the expense of farmers with junior rights. The farmers say if senior rights holders are allowed to cut off the water supply to junior holders, thousands of acres of farmland could dry up.
CDR Associates has spoken with more than 100 stakeholders, including farmers, politicians, domestic water users, water-dependent industries and environmental groups. Its plan will include a strategy for paying for a new management system, possibly through a sales tax increase.
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