Snake River Water Pact Extended for a Yearby Staff
The Idaho Statesman, October 11, 2003
Experts need time to sort out dispute over river, aquifer
TWIN FALLS -- An agreement will be extended for a third year to give Upper Snake River irrigators more time to resolve a dispute over southern Idaho´s limited water supply.
The extension of the agreement between surface and groundwater users avoids a major curtailment of water while experts determine how to protect the springs that feed both the river and aquifer supplying hundreds of irrigation wells.
In the last 40 years, flows from those springs have dropped 25 percent as the result of more effective irrigation techniques, more wells and drought.
That means flows of around 5,000 cubic feet per second, about 1 million acre-feet less than in the early 1950s, and that means less water for trout producers in the Hagerman Valley.
When water supplies get too tight, state law requires junior water users to be shut off so senior water-right holders get their due.
That would be the fate of the groundwater pumpers on the Eastern Snake River Plain except for the two-year-old agreement that has kept their wells pumping. If the law were enforced, fish hatcheries including Clear Springs Foods Inc. and Clear Lakes Trout Co. would have more water through their raceways.
Declining flows in the Hagerman Valley have dried up a number of raceways at Clear Lakes Trout Co., and the company is prepared to break away from the two-year-old truce and legally assert its water rights in January.
That could mean some groundpumpers in Jerome and Gooding counties could be shut off. They are working on a plan to compensate other water users for the water they draw from the aquifer. But no matter how successful, that plan would not benefit the hatcheries because they need cool, clean spring water, not the warmer water that flows through the canal system.
“We too will be looking at a mitigation plan,” Clear Springs President Larry Cope said. “The objective is that no one is put out of business.”
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