Friday, May 1, 2009

Project aims for increased river flows

Plan calls for using water rights donations

Express Staff Writer

Kevin Lakey, water master for Big Wood River Basin, answers questions at a hearing about establishing a minimum stream flow in the Big Wood River. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Big Wood River is one step closer to maintaining a year-round minimum stream flow.

Two public hearings were held Wednesday to review two applications requesting minimum stream flows of 60 cubic feet per second in the Big Wood River and 74 cubic feet per second in the Little Wood River, near Carey.

The applications are a follow-up to the Wood River Legacy Bill, which was passed by the Idaho Legislature in March 2007. The bill authorized the Idaho Water Resource Board to apply for the minimum stream flows specific to the two rivers.

Minimum stream flow is the amount of water flow deemed necessary to preserve fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, aesthetic beauty and recreational opportunities.

The overall effort of trying to boost water flows in southern Blaine County is known as the Legacy Project.

In order to achieve this goal, the Idaho Water Resource Board needs individuals to donate their water rights to the river flows. What is unique about the legislation is that individuals can donate their water rights but still retain the option to reclaim them later. That is in contrast to an old law that—in essence—demanded water rights holders "use it or lose it."

"This is a relatively simple concept," said Andy Munter, volunteer board member for Idaho Rivers United, a nonprofit group that works to protect waterways. "(The Legacy Project) was to allow people with a water right to leave it in the stream for conservation purposes while maintaining that right to be able to use it in the future."

Munter said the two applications are key to the project.


"Minimum stream flow is a necessary component for us to even have the possibility of getting water donated and getting it to work," he said. "We may or may not be successful and we may or may not be able to extend it in 2012, but we need it as a possibility."

While there have been some donations of water rights, there have not been enough to meet the 60 cfs requirement for the Big Wood River.

Despite the bill's broad support, there were a number of concerns raised at the public hearings. In particular, Chuck Brockway, an engineer and hydrologist with Brockway Engineering of Twin Falls, raised objections to the department's ability to accurately measure the stream flow.

Brockway and others also raised concerns about the legitimacy of certain water rights donations.

Kevin Lakey, water master for the Big Wood River Basin, said there are established standards for accepting water donations and how to manage the rights. He did acknowledge, however, there are some questionable donations.

"The local water supply bank will need to meet and readdress and revisit some of the bylaws in how water is accepted, which will then have to be addressed by the water resource board," Lakey said.

Gary Spackman, administrator of the water management division for the Idaho Department of Water Resources, presided over the hearings. Spackman plans to make a recommendation to the department sometime in the next 60 days.

Written comments can be submitted via mail up until May 13. Mail comments to: IDWR, Attn: Gary Spackman, P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0098

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