by John O'Connell
BOISE -- The Idaho Water Resource Board has budgeted $500,000 toward the first year of a five-year effort to study Treasure Valley aquifers and develop an improved model to predict their function.
The project was included in $14.4 million the board allocated May 20 for its Secondary Aquifer Fund.
The Idaho Legislature significantly increased its contribution to the fund for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1, from $5.5 million during the current fiscal year to $12.5 million.
The remainder of the funding will come from carryover dollars and revenue generated by board assets, including Dworshak Dam and Pristine Springs Fish Hatchery.
Al Barker, a Water Resource Board member who serves as the attorney for the Boise Project Board of Control, explained there are several layers of aquifers within Treasure Valley, some of which are interconnected while others are isolated. While some have an adequate supply, others are in decline.
"I've always been an advocate for looking beyond the Eastern Snake Plain," Barker said. "There are many aquifers in the state that are in need of study."
Sean Vincent, hydrology section manager at the Idaho Department of Water Resources, plans to team with the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Idaho experts in developing the model. Vincent said the USGS was instrumental in helping to develop previous models, including one for the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. Vincent said the board will also create a technical advisory team to provide user input on the project.
Though groundwater models have provided the science to base water calls on the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, Vincent doesn't anticipate the Treasure Valley model would be used for conjunctive management in the near future. Rather, he explained it should aid in efforts to bolster groundwater levels through recharge, and in making better management decisions for users throughout the system.
Vincent said a Senate concurrent resolution directed the board to address statewide aquifer and sustainability studies and develop a Treasure Valley groundwater model with "all necessary measurement networks."
As a starting point, Vincent explained the model will use the existing Treasure Valley Hydrologic Project Model, which is static based on an average year. The Bureau of Reclamation "tweaked" the model in 2013 to consider economic data and monthly variability, Vincent said. He said the new model will be transient -- factoring seasonal and yearly changes -- highly calibrated, and will use satellite data to calculate water losses through evapotranspiration.
In the first year of the project, Vincent said the team will focus on filling in data gaps, such as installing at least a dozen gages to measure water leaving a shallow aquifer from drains that pour into the Snake River and Boise River.
Wesley Hipke, IDWR recharge coordinator, said the board approved an additional $200,000 to study Treasure Valley recharge opportunities and $200,000 to improve modeling in the Wood River Valley, among other line items. He said the majority of the funding -- about $10.4 million -- was earmarked for the ESPA.
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