Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legacy Project causes ripples in Hailey

Request for water right opposed by Hiawatha Canal users

Express Staff Writer

After a low-snowpack winter and an abnormally dry spring and summer, it's no surprise that water has become a contested commodity.

That was made clear once again at a meeting of the Hailey City Council on Monday, Aug. 13, when Wood River Legacy Project Director Richard McIntyre requested that Hailey consider donating its right to water in the Hiawatha Canal in order to keep water in the Big Wood River.

While the donation to the project wouldn't be permanent, but rather would be reviewed by city officials on a year-to-year basis, and would likely divert less than the city's relatively small right of 2.8 cubic feet per second, it nonetheless ran into opposition.

David Cropper, chairman of the Hiawatha Canal Co., which is responsible for delivering water from the river to the canal, said that while that amount of water means little to the overall flow of the river, removing it would have a serious impact on canal users.

McIntyre, a Hailey resident, agreed that the amount of water and the temporary nature of the donation would be a symbol rather than a solution.

"It would be a public statement that the city of Hailey wants water restored to the river," McIntyre said. "I would like to see the first contribution come from my hometown."

According to McIntyre, the project would require the Idaho Department of Water Resources to determine how much of Hailey's water right in the canal would be appropriate to return to the river and the effect on junior water users.

"We are not proposing anything that would hurt other water users," McIntyre said. "This wouldn't preclude the city from putting the water to use in the future."

However, Hiawatha Canal Co. board member Rod Kegley said the benefit of putting the water in the canal greatly outweighs any that could be gained by keeping it in the river. He said water leaking from the canal supplies a huge amount of water to the artificial aquifer that has been created by spreading water out in the area.

"You need to recharge the aquifer as high as you can," Kegley said, adding that water that goes into the soil from the canal is eventually returned to the canal.

One thing is certain¾any decision one way or the other will be a long time coming.

Councilwoman Carol Brown said she would like to have a public hearing on the matter and Councilman Don Keirn requested that an independent water specialist look into the issue.

"Everyone is very touchy about water, especially now," Keirn said.

Mayor Susan McBryant echoed the desire to receive public input, as well as for additional information such as how much water the city supplies the canal with every year with its right.

A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the first or second council meeting next month, either September 10 or 24.

In other Hailey news:

· Council members approved the city's 2007-2008 budget, which was set at $11.2 million, and set the salaries of the mayor and council at $1,590 and $800 per month, respectively.

· Mayor Susan McBryant said she would defer the hiring of a new police chief until a new mayor is chosen in this fall's election. McBryant said she will work with the new mayor and hold a workshop with council members to decide what kind of chief would be best for the city, such as one with a focus on public outreach. In the meantime, Lt. Jeff Gunter will continue as acting chief. McBryant said she will also wait to hire a new public works administrator to replace Ray Hyde, who left the position last month. She said City Administrator Jim Spinelli agreed that at this time, it does not seem necessary to fill the position, which is being performed by City Engineer Tom Hellen.

· Hailey's Climate Protection Committee and the Environmental Resource Center collaborated to provide the city with a draft of a vehicle maintenance and procurement policy, which would provide a set of guidelines to city employees to help reduce its carbon footprint. The policy would include everything from basic maintenance to the purchasing of environmentally friendly vehicles, such as hybrids. The proposed policy will be shown to the various department heads for their input.

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