to crack down on illegal
Express Staff Writer
complaints by south-county irrigators, the Idaho Department of Water
Resources is alerting Blaine County residents that they cannot legally
irrigate more than one-half acre of land without a state water right, even
when they use water from their own wells.
is a major problem all across the southern half of the state," said
the departmentís public information officer, Dick Larsen.
illegal water use is particularly common in areas where land has been
subdivided into ranchettes, such as in the Wood River Valley, Teton County
in eastern Idaho and the Eagle area, west of Boise. He said people buy
parcels of about five acres and assume they can irrigate all of it with
first step is to alert people," Larsen said. "We believe most
people want to be legal but they simply donít know."
law, a property owner can use well water without acquiring a water right
only for "domestic use," which includes irrigation of up to
The use of
well water affects other irrigators because groundwater flows into water
courses such as the Big Wood River and Silver Creek, from which farmers
and ranchers draw their water.
groundwater is going somewhere," Larsen said.
ago, about 25 south-county ranchers and farmers met with Idaho Department
of Water Resources representatives in Picabo to discuss their concerns
about declining water flows. The irrigators contend that unlawful water
use by north-county property owners exacerbates the natural drought
conditions caused by three years of dry winters.
water gets intercepted up the valley to irrigate landscaping that used to
be sagebrush," said Fred Brossy, who manages a 300-acre organic farm
near the Little Wood River west of Shoshone.
knows to what extent thereís irrigation from domestic wells exceeding
half an acre," he said. "The department needs to get a handle on
the department has not verified the south-county irrigatorsí complaints
of illegal use. However, he said, annual measurements of the water levels
in Blaine County wells indicate a decline in the water table. Much of that
can be attributed to drought, but Brossy said water levels in the Big Wood
River and Silver Creek rise in the fall as the irrigating season in the
north county tapers off.
complaints of unauthorized water use are made against specific properties,
Larsen said, the department checks to see if the property has a water
right. If it doesnít, the department will send the owner a notice of
violation. Anyone who refuses to comply is subject to a penalty of $100
donít like getting that far, but we have done that with people who
simply blew us off," he said.
unknown portion of the groundwater in the northern Wood River Valley flows
into the totally spring-fed Silver Creek. Mark Davidson, manager of the
Silver Creek Preserve, said there has been a long-term decline of flows in
the creek, but the cause of that has not been determined. He said The
Nature Conservancy, which owns the preserve, has hired local hydrologist
Lee Brown to begin a groundwater study later this month.
groundwater seeps into the ground at different places," Davidson
said. "To get an answer to that question will help us get an answer
to how groundwater is being impacted in the Hailey-Ketchum area."