Friday, May 10, 2013

Water fight

    The Wood River Valley is known for the fish and wildlife that call it home. The Big Wood River attracts hundreds of fishermen every year to try their luck on the valley’s namesake that’s fed by both springs and high-mountain snow melt.
    The river has seen its share of water battles in a part of the state that is largely desert and is again the subject of a dispute.
    A private company headed by former Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill wants to divert water from the Big Wood into the Hiawatha Canal in the south county and use it to “recharge” an aquifer pumped by agricultural wells that could be shut off if downstream users with senior water rights demand it. His company would sell the water to landowners who want it.
    Tuthill believes the river has water that often goes “unused” and ends up in the Snake River. That’s the crux of the dispute. Three organizations, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League say there’s nothing wrong with leaving water in the river because it supports fish and wildlife along its length. They have filed protests that have stayed the application until September.
    Good for them.
    The Idaho Department of Water Resources is responsible for granting or denying the water diversion. It needs to give serious consideration to the impacts on fish and wildlife in a county where the economy relies heavily on recreation. It needs to balance private and public interests in the river. A desiccated river bed could harm fish and wildlife, have incalculable impacts on the economy and lower values of properties nearby.
    A private company’s profit should not be allowed to trump the public benefits of the Big Wood.

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