Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Curtailment could affect Carey farmers

IDWR issues order affecting 591 southern Idaho junior water rights holders

Express Staff Writer

A water-curtailment order issued by Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill could have serious implications for certain water users near Carey and elsewhere throughout southern Idaho.

Click to enlarge (PDF) Map courtesy IDWR This map from the Idaho Department of Water Resources shows the areas impacted by a water curtailment order last Friday, June 15, by the agency?s director, David Tuthill.

On Friday, June 15, Tuthill issued the order curtailing junior water rights for groundwater users in portions of Blaine, Butte, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln and Minidoka counties.

Tuthill's order covers 591 groundwater rights on 16,638 acres of irrigation, commercial, municipal and some non-exempt domestic and stockwater uses. In-house uses of water will not be subject to curtailment under the order. In Blaine County, the order only affects those areas of the county south and east of Carey.

The curtailment comes in response to water-delivery calls made in 2005 by senior water rights holders Blue Lakes Trout Farm and Clear Springs Foods. They say they haven't been getting their share of their water.

Unless junior water rights holders submit mitigation plans acceptable to IDWR by July 6, they'll have to shut off their pumps.

In a news release sent out by the state agency last Friday, the IDWR states that water calls and curtailment orders are necessary to satisfy the director's duty under Idaho law to administer water rights in times of water shortages in accordance with the state Constitution and statutes.

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"Curtailment is a last resort, but we are obligated under Idaho law to follow through with enforcement when mitigation is not provided," Tuthill stated. "Unfortunately, the parties involved have not presented an acceptable solution to get through 2007, so I have no choice but to issue these curtailment orders."

On April 30, Tuthill sent warning letters to a larger group of 771 water rights holders that could have potentially been curtailed under the water call. Since then, the number of water users included in the call has decreased due to mitigation plans submitted by some junior water rights holders.

Earlier this year, groundwater pumpers submitted a plan to set aside 45,000-acre-feet of water for the trout farms.

But the state rejected the proposal. Pumpers could use canals to ship 65- to 70-degree water to the trout farms, but those operations need colder, 54-degree spring water that's clean enough to drink in order to raise their fish.

"The challenge for the groundwater users is to provide water either through recharge, or through the retirement of wells near the springs that feed the trout farms," Tuthill was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story.

Idaho is the nation's largest producer of farm-raised rainbow trout, with the industry valued at $35 million annually.

Tuthill's shutoff is the latest development in Idaho's water woes, exacerbated by aggressive groundwater pumping and another year of drought. Though Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter called a water summit on April 17 to discuss broader solutions to conflicts between Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer groundwater pumpers and holders of century-old water rights, this order seems to indicate that sometimes shutting pumpers down may be the only way.

Tim Deeg, president of the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Association, expressed disappointment with Tuthill's curtailment order.

"Idaho farmers and their families will bear the primary financial brunt of this drastic measure, with financial losses estimated between $18 million and $20 million," Deeg stated in a news release. "We fear Magic Valley farm families face economic ruin as well."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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