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Groundwater users worried about water curtailment

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - In the past weeks, local farmers have become increasingly worried their irrigation pumps could shut down. They say a new methodology from Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) would curtail 84% of groundwater rights in Eastern Idaho.

Keith Esplin, Executive Director of the Eastern Idaho Water Rights Coalition, explains how this could affect local farmers.

"In a dry year and facing these kind of curtailments, they've (Farmers) either got to make decisions that they don't plant the same crops or  they don't plant as many acres," Esplin said. "The other problem is they'll review this curtailment order two or three times during the year. They might need less in July if the runoff turns out good. Or there might be more... Then you've already got a crop planted and you're facing not being able to water."

The curtailment is the result of a call from surface water users in the Twin Falls area. They allege pumping water from the aquifer is reducing the water flows to the snake river and springs in their area.

The IDWR has said the groundwater users can avoid the curtailment if they enter into an approved mitigation agreement.

"Any given year when we issue curtailment notice, we have to go through our records and determine who has mitigation plans and who doesn't," IDWR deputy director Matt Weaver said. "We would only curtail the ones that don't."

But many groundwater users in east Idaho believe the mitigation agreements unfairly favor water users in Twin Falls. In last week's eastern Idaho water rights coalition meeting, east Idaho farmers made their opinions very clear.

"They're(Twin Falls and Magic Valley farmers) using a lot more water. The seasons are longer there. They're attacking the shoulder seasons now and taking those because they want the water for the  longer season," one east Idaho farmer said. "The dairy industry has put demand on high consumptive crops  and there's a lot of variables going on is putting the pressure on the resource."

While no curtailment has taken effect yet, the IDWR has made clear it is a possibility. They've scheduled a contested case hearing on June 6th to hear arguments from Idaho water users.

 "The parties who are affected by these changes can come in and argue why they think we're doing right  or we're not doing it right," Weaver said. "Then the department will issue a decision which can be appealed to district court. ... And so curtailment might come this year,  but it's probably not coming until at least  the latter half of June."

Some farmers are confident the excess of water this year will see them through the curtailment. But, east Idaho water officials say they are not just worried about this year but years to come. 

"On a year like this, we probably have the water to be able to mitigate any curtailment that would happen. But what we're worried about in future years when that water is not going to be available," Bingham Groundwater District Director Alan Jackson said. "Is the answer going to be to shut off hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland?  Is there a better solution that doesn't require  something so destructive to the economy."

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Falls

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Seth Ratliff

Seth is a reporter for Local News 8.


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