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“There is still work to do” – Farmers moving forward after water curtailment cancelled

BLACKFOOT, Idaho (KIFI) - The Idaho Department of Water Resources has confirmed a settlement has been reached between the Surface Water Coalition and groundwater districts for the 2024 irrigation season.

While the deal was only approved by the Idaho Department of Water Resources Thursday, many of the east Idaho farmers are wasting no time making up the hours they lost over the past few weeks.

Bingham County farmer Shaun VanOrden said he nearly lost a third of this year's harvest when the water was cut off.

"It was devastating," Bingham county farmer Shaun VanOrden told Local News 8. "You know, we were scrambling, trying to make plans, talking to the bank, seeing what could be done if there's ways to buy water outside of of the district or what, you know, what we could do personally. Those options were really not on the table," he said.

With the new agreement brokered by Governor Brad Little, VanOrden is now playing catch up.

He's thankful for the national attention that's gotten them to this point.

"It's been great to have them on our side and working with us and and putting a spotlight on Idaho, because we do have to make some big changes here," said VanOrden. "I think that should tell the powers that be that, hey, we need to sit down. We need to figure out some a different way to manage water in Idaho now."

But while this new agreement seems promising, the fight is far from over. As water users throughout the state head the the negotiation table for the next three months.

"Whatever we agreed to, we knew had to had to lead us in a different direction than we were headed before," Bingham Groundwater District manager Alan Jackson told Local News 8. "So we need to replace what we had before with something that will work for both sides."

Jackson expressed optimism that a more permanent agreement could be reached soon.

"How do we preserve as much of this economy as we possibly can, how do we preserve as much farmland as much of the the production that we get out of this water resource as possible? If all parties, including the state, come to these negotiations with that idea in mind, then I think we can find the solutions we're looking for," Jackson said.

While east Idaho farmers hold out hope for the negotiations, many are looking to the state to help solve the problem long term.

"There's been some stuff we found over the few years that that we probably need to be addressing through the legislature...long term," said VanOrden. "For now, I feel like working with the surface water coalition and IGWA to find a way that we can all fit together would be great."

The curtailment was ordered after the Department of Water Resources projected a shortfall of surface water to the Twin Falls Canal Company, a senior water right holder in the Magic Valley.

The new plan mitigates for that shortfall and continues the commitment of the "Idaho Ground Water Association" to recharge the  aquifer.

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Seth Ratliff

Seth is a reporter for Local News 8.


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