Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Changes loom for Hailey water rights

City wells could be vulnerable to downstream irrigators

Express Staff Writer

This Hailey municipal well in Northridge subdivision could be shut down during a dry summer by senior water rights holders downstream. Photo by David N. Seelig

Hailey officials have known for some time that changes looming in the state's water polices could jeopardize access to water for irrigation in the city. Last week, the City Council got some ideas on what to do about it.

Roxanne Brown of SPF Water Engineering in Boise presented a report outlining responses the city could make to "conjunctive" water rights management, which she said would likely come to the valley within five years.

Conjunctive management is an innovative regulatory practice that manages surface water, used for irrigation, along with groundwater, or well-pumping rights.

"The idea behind conjunctive administration of water rights is that there is a direct connection between surface water and groundwater," Brown said in an interview.

Hailey relies upon three sources for its municipal water supply: the Hiawatha Canal, Indian Creek Springs and seven wells from Woodside to Northridge.

The canal and springs have water rights dating from the 1880s. The wells have priority dates from the 1960s and could be shut down during a drought year by "calls" from canal company irrigators from the south with older priority dates, including the Big Wood Canal Co., which services farmland in Lincoln County.

Under conjunctive management, a well user with later priority dates than a surface water user typically loses if the well water is used for "consumptive uses," such as watering lawns.

Brown said Hailey wells that are farthest from the Big Wood River would be less vulnerable during a call than those close to the river. Therefore, a well in Woodside would be shut down later than wells in Northridge.

"We need a policy on where we could possibly cut water use in the city," said Councilman Fritz Haemmerle, who is also a water rights attorney.

Brown advised the council to continue conserving water through odd-even watering days, and to continue gathering information on water use.

"The data can be used to find out where water is wasted, if it is, and move forward with a plan based on water-use patterns," she said. "Those patterns could change if there is a call."

Brown said the city could also recharge the aquifer with water from the canal and springs in order to offset the use of wells for irrigation.

Council members on Oct. 25 discussed the possibility of reducing watering in the city to one day per week under emergency situations, and possibly cutting back on the irrigation of parks, if necessary.

Councilman Don Keirn said the Wood River Middle School playing field was watered far more than necessary last summer and school officials should be convinced to cut back on water use.

"It's like Ireland over there," he said.

Police Chief Jeff Gunter said the school had been given warnings about watering too much in the past.

Brown said Hailey was "light years ahead" of other small towns in Idaho in preparing for conjunctive management.

"We are only in the very beginning stages," she said.

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