Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hailey assessing its water rights

City leaders told some might be vulnerable to restrictions

Express Staff Writer

Many water rights holders in southern Idaho are discussing the potential impacts of below-average water reserves in parts of southern Idaho, including Magic Reservoir south of Bellevue, above, which is far below its capacity. Express photo by Willy Cook

    The city of Hailey began discussions last week about whether the city can keep parks green and lawns watered in the face of “conjunctive management.”
    The Hailey City Council heard nearly an hour-long presentation on Monday, April 15, on water rights and conjunctive management in preparation for a groundwater model that could have an impact on the city’s groundwater rights.
    The Idaho Department of Water Resources is currently developing a groundwater model that will map the relationship between wells and surface water in preparation for conjunctive management. The model is expected to be completed by late 2015.
    Christian Petrich, co-founder of SPF Water Engineering in Boise, told the council last week that the model will set a foundation for how the department will manage groundwater in conjunction with surface water, which has not been done before in the Big Wood Basin.
    Boise water rights attorney Mike Creamer told the city that typically, surface water administration—limits placed on water use—has not impacted groundwater rights, which means that municipalities that rely on groundwater have not had to worry about water calls or restrictions. But that could change, he said.
[Groundwater] has been easy to get, easy to control and it’s clean,” he said. “[But] even the most senior groundwater right in this valley is junior to those who are going to be making the delivery calls.”
    Roxanne Brown, a water rights specialist with SPF Water Engineering, said the city of Hailey’s water comes from three sources: Indian Creek Springs, the Big Wood River via the Hiawatha Canal, and groundwater rights, some of which came with the annexation of the Old Cutters development.
    Brown said that most domestic use—that is, use in homes and businesses—comes from surface water rights, and would not necessarily be vulnerable to restrictions. What would be vulnerable, she said, are consumptive water rights, or water that is used for irrigation that comes out of groundwater wells with junior water rights.
    Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle, who is also a water rights attorney, said the presentation contained both good news and bad news for the city.
    “The good news is that we have a lot of high-priority surface water rights, unlike a lot of other cities,” he said. “The bad news is, like most cities, we rely heavily on groundwater with poor priority dates.”
    Petrich said the end result of conjunctive administration on the city is still uncertain. Haemmerle said in a later interview that the city is taking stock of its water rights and keeping apprised of its options.

Kate Wutz:

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