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USDA to fund 3 major Idaho water conservation projects

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $5,177,185 in the Idaho Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer Stabilization Project.

The agency will work with the Idaho Water Resource Board to implement four actions designed to stabilize and recover ground water levels in the Snake Plain Aquifer. The actions include ground to surface water conversions and efforts to promote conversion of irrigated acreage to dryland farming. The project also hopes to modify center pivot irrigation equipment to eliminate inefficient “end guns” as a way to conserve water.

USDA said the project would benefit agriculture, industry, and municipalities on the Eastern Snake River Plain.

The importance of water in Idaho cannot be overstated,” said Curtis Elke, NRCS state conservationist for Idaho. “We are excited to be working with the Idaho Water Resource Board and their partners on this project to help recharge and stabilize the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer, which is essential to the people of this state.”

The announcement was part of a USDA announcement outlining 88 high-impact projects across the country. USDA has allotted $225 million as part of its Regional Conservation Partnership Program. An additional $500 million will help improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability.

In addition to the aquifer stabilization project, NRCS is investing $719,100 in the Portneuf River Fish Passage and Water Management Project.

The river is a significant source of irrigation water for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and Fort Hall Irrigation Project. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been constructing a rock check dam downstream of the pumping station to adjust the water level as necessary.

The rock dam is the greatest obstruction to fish movement in the Lower Portneuf River and is a labor-intensive and difficult way to regulate the main channel water flow.

Through the new project, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and partners will construct a fish passage channel and an irrigation check structure. It is expected to improve feeding patterns and allow access to better habitats and overall fish survival. It should also make more water available for the Tribal Water Bank leasing program, increasing drought resiliency and providing greater regional water security.

The third Idaho conservation project is a partnership to assist in implementing market-based solutions to address water quality and quantity issues that impact Teton Valley farmers and wildlife populations.

In cooperation with four partners, led by Friends of the Teton River, NRCS will invest $825,490 in the Teton Valley Soil, Water, and Wildlife Project. The project will focus on growing concerns related to the loss of agriculture and associated wildlife habitat in Teton Valley.

“This project is a prime example of Idahoans coming together to preserve their agricultural roots and natural resources for the benefit of future generations,” Elke said.

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