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After banner year, aquifer recharge to fall short this winter

Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) recharge will probably fall short of its goal this winter.

The Idaho Water Resource Board projects 170,000 acre-feet of water will be recharged this year, short of the 250,000 acre-foot annual goal. The shortfall is due to limited water availability, combined with construction projects and canal maintenance requirements.

So far this year, Recharge Project Manager Wesley Hipke said the board has recharged 63,293 acre-feet of water into the aquifer. The recharge season began in mid-August. Nine upper Snake River Valley sites contributed 57,147 acre-feet to the total.

But, with only average reservoir carryover, and construction and maintenance projects in the Magic Valley will likely lead to smaller volume this winter.

The Idaho Department of Water Resources reported that the aquifer level rose by more than 1.7 million acre-feet in one year. That is the largest single-year increase in 80 years. The Water Resource Board credited that to two consecutive “robust winters,” the 2015 water settlement agreement between the Surface Water Coalition and the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, and surplus water from high reservoir storage.

The board has spent more than $20 million on recharge infrastructure improvements from 2013 through fiscal year 2019. The board budgeted another $8 million for managed recharge infrastructure projects and investigations in Fiscal Year 2019.

Officials notified the board that under the 2015 water settlement, groundwater appropriators more than doubled the amount of water they were obligated to conserve under the settlement. They reduced water use by 512,508 acre-feet, more than double their annual target.

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