Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quigley Canyon water budget contested

Wendy Pabich says development would cost the city water

Express Staff Writer

Hailey resident and Blaine County water consultant Wendy Pabich said it is "highly unlikely" that Hailey has sufficient water to cover the Quigley Canyon development

The Hailey City Council will soon have to decide whether a proposed development in Quigley Canyon, which includes an 18-hole golf course and 379 homes, will cost the city in terms of its uncertain water supply.

There are conflicting reports on this complicated issue. Hailey resident and Blaine County water consultant Wendy Pabich, presented a study to the City Council on Tuesday, May 19, outlining water rights in Quigley Canyon and water use projections at the proposed development. She concluded that it is "highly unlikely" that the volume of water available is "even close to covering the water demands that will be created by this development."

Quigley developer David Hennessey's attorney, Evan Robertson, responded to Pabich's comments at a workshop meeting at Hailey City Hall last week. Robertson pointed to a study prepared by Norm Young of ERO Resources of Boise in December that concluded that water resources in Quigley Canyon are "sufficient for the proposed project."

City Attorney Ned Williamson said in March that it if the annexation causes a deficiency in the existing city water system, he would be "very surprised" if it goes forward.

Yet the existence of a "senior" water right dating from 1889 in Quigley Canyon may prove to be an incentive for city leaders to grant annexation.

Senior rights such as the one owned by Quigley Green Owners LLC, which measures 2.28 cubic feet per second, can be transferred to the city for its own use, or used to recharge groundwater as mitigation for the city's water use from junior well rights.

Hailey gets its water supply during summer months from wells with water rights dating from 1960 to 2001. When "conjunctive" water rights management comes to town, the city could face challenges to the use of that water from senior water rights holders in the Big Wood River Basin with rights dating from the 1880s.

Conjunctive management is an innovative regulatory practice that manages surface water, or irrigation water rights, together with groundwater, or well-pumping rights. When priority dates of the two kinds of water rights are weighed against one another during dry periods, the well user typically loses if the water is used for "consumptive uses," such as watering lawns, and golf courses.

The City of Hailey is actively seeking ways to prepare for possible curtailment of its municipal water supply under conjunctive management, which is expected to come to the Wood River Valley within the next five years.

In March the council took a portion of an 1883 water right worth $930,000 in lieu of cash from Old Cutters developer John Campbell who owed the city $860,000 in annexation fees for several months.

Will the senior right in Quigley Canyon provide enough value to entice the city to annex? Robertson said the developer and city officials have yet to discuss a monetary amount associated with the senior right in Quigley Canyon, but Pabich said senior water rights are selling for $20,000 to $50,000 per miner's inch, or the equivalent of .02 cubic feet per second, in this area.

She said if conjunctive management withdrew the 9.68 cubic feet per second that Quigley has in junior rights, it would cost the city about $15 million to replace them.

Several objections to the amount of water rights in Quigley Canyon have been made by downstream users, including the Big Wood Canal Company.

A date has been set by the Idaho Department of Water Resources for December 11th to settle the objections.

Tony Evans:

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