Friday, February 13, 2009

More participation sought for Legacy Project

Backers of innovative water program hope to triple in-stream donations in 2009

Express Staff Writer

Participation in the now two-year-old Wood River Legacy Project remains a bit like the downstream stretch of the Big Wood River in the Bellevue Triangle that the landmark law is meant to save. Below the Glenwood Bridge, the 12-mile stretch of the Big Wood passing through the area's agricultural lands goes dry for much of the year.

Last summer, in its first full year of existence, the amendment to Idaho Code facilitated the contribution of just 3 cubic feet per second of water back into the Big Wood.

This year, backers of the Legacy Project, including Boise-based Idaho Rivers United, which manages the program, are hoping to more than triple its first limited successes.

Signed into law by Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter in early 2007, the program seeks to increase flows in the Big Wood and Silver Creek systems through protected donations of water.

A provision of the legislation provides for donated water rights to be used for recreational uses in the Wood River Valley and then revert to agricultural uses as it enters the lower river basin, a news release from Idaho Rivers United states.

"We're trying to move water downhill," said Carl Pendleton, a member of the Legacy Project advisory board and the Lincoln County representative of the program. "The result is increased flows in the river and more water for crops downstream."

As first proposed, the bill initially angered farmers and ranchers in the Bellevue Triangle, who argued that it would diminish their water supplies and reduce flows in Silver Creek. Under pressure from the irrigators, the bill underwent a series of major revisions and the concerns were generally alleviated by the time it was presented to the Legislature.

The Legacy Project originally sought to just add flows to the Big Wood—specifically the dry stretch south of Bellevue—by giving water rights holders the opportunity to keep some or all of their water in-stream. Current Idaho water law requires people to use all their allotted water or risk losing their rights to it, a policy known as "use it or lose it."

Water rights holders can make donations to the program for as little as a year.

"It's designed so people keep ownership of the water," said Andy Munter, another member of the Legacy Project advisory board and owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum. "This is a safe, effective, efficient way to protect your water right while helping fish, wildlife and down-basin irrigators."

To find out more about the Legacy Project, call Kevin Lewis at Idaho Rivers United at (208) 343-7481.

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