Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bellevue set to intervene at hearing

City sharing legal expenses with Wood River Irrigation District 45


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

The city if Bellevue is not taking chances when it comes to keeping water in the Big Wood River. The city has drafted a letter to intervene at a hearing of the Idaho Department of Water Resources early next year that could determine how low the river will be allowed to get.

Unlike other towns in the northern Wood River Valley, the Big Wood can be accessed easily as it runs through the length of Bellevue. But during dry years, the river becomes a trickle in the south valley. At times it has dried up completely in Bellevue, due in part to demands placed on the river for irrigation.

Senior water rights decreed to farmers in southern Blaine County many years ago have become a hot commodity for sale to private homeowners in the north county in recent years, but there is a growing concern that there may not be enough water rights to go around.

The extant priority dates of water rights in the valley are being adjudicated this year and next.

Selling water rights upstream in the Big Wood River Basin became more problematic in May when the Idaho Department of Water Resources issued a ruling, known as the Rohe decision, to enforce minimum streamflow requirements in the Big Wood River.

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An objection to the Rohe decision has been made by Hailey attorney Fritz Haemmerle, who said last month it will "hurt the market for water rights" in the Wood River Valley.

No date has been set for an appeal hearing on the decision, but Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard has drafted a "letter to intervene" to the state to make sure the city is at the table when and if it takes place in Twin Falls.

The Rohe decision subordinates an 1883 water right sold upstream by the Rohe family from the Hiawatha Canal to a 1983 minimum streamflow right held by the Idaho Water Resources Board. Under the ruling, if the flow of the Big Wood River falls below 189 cubic feet per second in Hailey, the water right would become temporarily invalid.

Bellevue is sharing legal expenses with the Wood River Irrigation District 45 Canal Co. to intervene at the hearing.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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