Friday, June 11, 2010

Water: a resource worthy of conservation


I was recently faced with a thirst conundrum. My body desperately wanted water but my brain fought the purchase of another wasteful plastic liter bottle of water costing $5.35, about 500 percent more than premium gas. Water, once a resource taken for granted, has turned into an extremely valuable commodity precipitating us towards a science-fiction future of water wars. Unlike the energy issue, we cannot solve this problem with alternatives because life must have water. We can, however, conserve this priceless resource.

Science will help us conserve water through use efficiencies, and each of us can conserve water in our own homes and backyards. In the Wood River Valley, the revving up of sprinkler systems is a sound of summer's commencement. However, our desire for a lush yard is inconsistent with the arid reality of Idaho; therefore, we are using too much water.

The second phase of the U.S. Geological Survey's Groundwater Resources of the Wood River Valley study, completed in 2009, states that "[t]he Wood River Valley depends on its ground water for everything from irrigation to domestic uses to adequate flows in its rivers and streams" and "over the long term more water is [being] removed from [the Wood River Valley aquifer's] storage than is replaced." The study determined that the top three water outflows from the Wood River Valley aquifer are Silver Creek streamflow gains, well pumping and Big Wood streamflow gains.

The total estimated 1995-2004 mean annual outflow from the Wood River aquifer is 250,000 acre-feet per year (81,463,330,173 gallons). Of this total outflow, domestic wells (about 1,200), subdivision wells (about 57) and municipal wells (about 21) for the communities of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue account for 44 percent of the total outflow from the aquifer at 110,000 acre-feet per year (35,843,865,276 gallons per year or 98,202,371 gallons per day).

The 2000 Census statistics for Blaine County show 12,186 housing units, so this use calculates to a daily household consumption of 8,059 gallons per day. The USGS study calculated the mean per-capita use for the Wood River Valley at 767 gallons per day, compared to the national average of 179 gallons per day and the Idaho average of 263 gallons per day.

Whichever way it is broken down, Wood River Valley water users are consuming way more water than is needed and in many cases allowed. State law limits irrigation to up to one-half acre of land for users not owning a water right. This irrigation limitation applies to the vast majority of the approximately 1,200 domestic wells in the Wood River Valley.

Our current consumption of water from the valley's aquifer is not sustainable. It is imperative that we embrace a new yard aesthetic appropriate to Idaho, one that does not require thousands of gallons of water. Many of us who live here enjoy being encircled by natural beauty and are concerned about conservation, yet seem unwilling to act on our beliefs in our own homes and backyards. This summer, please decrease your water consumption to help preserve the health of our rivers, the viability of our downstream agriculture and the preservation of this precious natural resource.

Nina Jonas is a member of the Ketchum City Council.

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