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Aquifer recharge plan nears 10-year anniversary

The Idaho Water Resource Board is preparing a ten-year review of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan (ESPA CAMP). Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke requested the review last May. A report is due to the Idaho Legislature and Governor Brad Little by the beginning of the 2020 legislative session.

The initial goal of the plan in 2009 was to restore 600,000 acre-feet of water to the aquifer on an annual basis by 2030.

Water Resource Department staff says more than 500,000 acre-feet of water is currently being restored to the aquifer.

Idaho Groundwater Appropriators executive director Lynn Tominaga said an historic 2015 water settlement between his group and the Surface Water Coalition, is restoring 240,000 acre-feet per year through a combination of reductions in ground water pumping and a reduced number of irrigated acres.

“We’re all working together to stabilize the aquifer,” Tominaga said. “Ground water users have been doing their share. We compliment the board for all of their work, and we need to keep pushing ahead toward ESPA sustainability.”

Twin Falls Canal Company general manager Brian Olmstead, a spokesman for the Surface Water Coalition, agreed the plan is working but cautioned the state cannot allow further development of farmland in the region.

“We are all working together. We applaud and support the board’s recharge program and other initiatives. We need everybody who’s involved in stabilizing the aquifer to continue their work,” said Olmstead.

But Idaho Power Company voiced some concern. IPC Senior Resource Planning and Operations Hydrology Manager Kresta Davis-Butts told the board the utility would like to have some water flows passing Milner Dam in the winter for hydro-power production. That is the same time the ESPA recharge program is in full swing.

“We’re not seeing a negative impact right now, but if we have zero flow at Milner in the winter, there are consequences,” she said. “Winter hydro production is important.”

Under state law, hydropower is subordinate to other water rights. And, the Water Resource Board has a decreed water right for winter recharge.

However, Water Board Chairman Roger Chase said the board would pay close attention to the issue and work to balance aquifer-sustainability interests with Idaho Power Company’s concerns.

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