Articles Posted in Water Rights

By T.J. Budge

The Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources recently issued an Order Designating the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Ground Water Management Area (“ESPA GWMA”) on November 2, 2016. The Director said his objective in forming the ESPA GWMA is to “bring all of the water users into the fold – cities, water districts and others – who may be affecting aquifer levels through their consumptive use.” (IDWR Press Release No. 2016-18.)

The formation of the ESPA GWMA comes on the heels of the monumental ESPA Settlement Agreement between the Surface Water Coalition (SWC) and Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (IGWA). That Agreement resolved more than a decade of contentious litigation between surface water and groundwater users by requiring groundwater users to reduce their water use in order to achieve an agreed-upon aquifer recovery goal for the ESPA. However, about ten percent of the groundwater users who divert water from the ESPA are not represented by IGWA and are not participating in recovering the ESPA. The designation of the ESPA GWMA is designed to require these outliers to contribute toward efforts to recover the aquifer.

By:  T.J. Budge

The Idaho Constitution was amended in 1964 by the people of Idaho to provide for the establishment of a “Water Resource Agency,” now known as the Idaho Water Resource Board, with “power to formulate and implement a state water plan for optimum development of water resources in the public interest.” Idaho Const. Art. XV, § 7. The Board has advanced this objective in part through development of the Idaho Water Supply Bank. The Bank is a mechanism whereby unused water rights can be temporarily deposited or “leased” into the Bank and persons needing water can withdraw or “rent” water out of the Bank.

The process of depositing and withdrawing water from the Bank is purely administrative—it all happens on paper. The Idaho Water Resource Board maintains a set of forms that must be be used to lease water into or rent water from the Bank, and employs staff to process the applications.

By: Randy Budge, T.J. Budge

On June 30, 2015, a historic settlement agreement was entered into between groundwater users and surface water users to permanently end conflict over use and management of Idaho’s vast Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA). Nearly the size of Lake Erie, the ESPA supplies water to roughly two million acres of farmland and dozens of cities and industries across southern Idaho. About half of that farmland is irrigated with groundwater pumped from the ESPA while the other half is irrigated with surface water from the Snake River that is supplemented with groundwater that discharges from the ESPA into the Snake River via springs located primarily in the American Falls and Thousand Springs areas. The settlement resolved more than a decade of contentious litigation between surface water and groundwater users. It calls for increased aquifer recharge funded by the State of Idaho and diversion reductions by groundwater users designed to stabilize and over time improve groundwater levels

Groundwater levels in the ESPA have been declining since the 1950s due the conversion from flood to sprinkler irrigation, the advent of groundwater irrigation, and persistent drought. As groundwater levels declined, so have spring discharges from the ESPA into the Snake River, thus reducing the water supply available to senior surface water rights. This spawned a meteoric conflict as canal companies in the Magic Valley and fish hatcheries in the Thousand Springs area called on the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) to shut off junior groundwater pumping in an effort to increase spring and surface water flows.

Racine Olson client Idaho Ground Water Appropriators (IGWA) completes Magic Springs mitigation project, protecting 14 cities and dozens of dairies in the Magic Valley from having their water turned off.

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