Friday, January 14, 2005

Growth drives water study

County to help fund comprehensive analysis

Express Staff Writer

With the potential for Blaine County's population to more than double by 2050, county leaders are teaming up with local hydrologists and the U.S. Geological Survey to initiate a comprehensive study of the region's water resources.

County leaders have committed so far to spend between $5,000 and $10,000 to help the effort get under way, said Blaine County Commission Chair Sarah Michael.

"The actual amount has not been finalized," Michael said.

Potential for the new, comprehensive water study surfaced last fall when the Wood River Valley's three foremost water experts agreed they really don't know what is going on with the area's ground and surface water.

"At the risk of tedium, the message remains that we three resident water professionals concur that no integrated understanding of the valley's watershed, with respect to water quality and quantity, exists," wrote Hydrologist Lee Brown in a January e-mail. "Instead, we have bits and pieces of existing information, gathered by different agencies at different times, focusing on different aspects, using different methodologies."

In November, the three local hydrologists (Bruce Lium, Wendy Pabich and Brown) hosted representatives from the Boise office of the U.S. Geological Survey for a presentation that included a rough outline of a study the agency could undertake using matching local moneys.

"As growth continues in the Wood River Valley, we believe it is essential to identify the holes in our understanding and construct a single, unified tool we can use to evaluate our present and future water resources," Brown continued. "The best organization to undertake this project is the USGS."

In a follow-up to the November meeting, USGS Hydrologist James Bartolino gave a very preliminary rundown of information that could be included in the study.

"The area is experiencing significant growth: The current population of 20,000 is projected to increase to 50,000 by 2050," he wrote. "Although several technical reports have addressed parts of the Wood River Valley, some of the area has not been studied; consequently, a holistic understanding of the water resources of the area is lacking."

According to Bartolino, a comprehensive study would include examinations of existing information, compilation of a groundwater level map, creation of a water level and water quality monitoring network, construction and operation of additional surface water gauging stations, baseline-assessments of the health of water-based plants and animals, and an analysis of ground water and surface water interactions.

"Initial funding in fiscal year 2005 would be used to compile and outline existing information, prepare an incremental plan of study with budgets and begin compilation of a ground water level map," Bartolino wrote.

Michael said the study is important. Water quantity and quality are among the leading issues facing Western communities.

"We have a lot of anecdotal information, people talking about their irrigation wells dropping, residents at Indian Creek whose wells are dropping," she said. "There's a lot of anecdotal information that water tables are dropping because of drought, because of growth, but we don't know."

If the study continues to move forward, perhaps in a few years, they will.

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