Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Company wants to divert water from Big Wood River, gulches

Innovative Mitigation Solutions plan aims to recharge aquifer

Express Staff Writer

The Big Wood River at Lion’s Park in Hailey is between the two diversion points in Innovative Mitigation Solutions’ application for a recharge water right.
Express photo by Roland Lane

    A company that would like to divert water from the Big Wood River during high flows to recharge the local aquifer plans to file applications for four more diversions—two from the Big Wood and two from creeks in Adams Gulch and Oregon Gulch.
    David Tuthill, manager of Innovative Mitigation Solutions, said his company will file for less than 10 cfs from each new diversion point. Tuthill said he anticipates the applications’ being advertised during the next month in the Idaho Mountain Express—a requirement that must be met before the Idaho Department of Water Resources can consider the applications.
    Innovative Mitigation Solutions is owned by Idaho Water Engineering, a company in which Tuthill, a former Department of Water Resources director, is a partner.
    The intent of recharging the aquifer is to provide water to groundwater users so they can continue to pump from their wells after a “call” by downstream holders of more senior surface-water rights during times of low water.  Such calls to shut off groundwater use have not yet occurred, and the IDWR has stated that “conjunctive management” of groundwater and surface water in the Big Wood River basin will not go into effect until at least 2015. However, those involved anticipate such an occurrence sometime in the near future.
    Innovative Mitigation Solutions filed its initial application for 154 cubic feet per second from the Big Wood River in February 2012. Twenty-three protests have been filed with the department in response.
    Tuthill said 154 cfs is the volume that can be handled by the originally anticipated diversion points at the Hiawatha and Baseline canals. The application has now replaced the Baseline Canal diversion point with a point at Walker Sand and Gravel south of Bellevue.
    The initial application and the anticipated new applications are for year-round rights, though Tuthill said water will be available for such a junior water right only during spring and early summer and occasionally in other seasons following downpours.
    He said his company’s plan is to allow the diverted water to seep into the aquifer, and to sign up groundwater users who could file a mitigation plan with the Department of Water Resources in the event of calls by more senior water-right holders. With such a plan, the department could allow the groundwater users to keep pumping from their wells until the recharged water had been used up. Tuthill said his company would monitor that use with oversight from the department.
    He said such a process has been used successfully in other states.
    Tuthill acknowledged that under current arrangements, no water could be diverted from the Big Wood system during years when Magic Reservoir did not fill. However, he said his company is working on ways to mitigate the Big Wood Canal Co.’s water rights at the reservoir to allow some diversion to occur during those years.
    He also said his company would be “mindful” of the 60 cfs instream flow right held by the state for conservation in the Big Wood River.
    “We think this is the right thing to do for the valley,” he said.
    The protestors disagree. Those filing protests include the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the BLM, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Power Co. and Trout Unlimited.
    “… [O]ur present understanding of the proposed appropriation suggests it could have substantial adverse effects on the resident fisheries in the Big Wood River,” the Department of Fish and Game’s protest states.
    The department expressed concern that less water in the river during high flows could result in less fish habitat and could inhibit the ability of rainbow trout to migrate upstream in the spring.
    In a letter to the Department of Water Resources dated Nov. 25, Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen suggested that a basinwide groundwater district be formed as an alternative to mitigation efforts undertaken by a private company. The letter states that Innovative Mitigation Solutions’ plan would lead to “expensive conflict among water users vying for scarce, meager and questionable mitigation options, satisfying a minority intermittently (when these flows would be available), while leaving most groundwater users out in the cold.”
    Tuthill said he supports formation of a groundwater district, but contended that the mitigation solutions needed are too complex for a district to handle.
    Allen Merritt, the Department of Water Resources’ Southern Region director, said he will contact all of the protestors over the next couple of months to schedule a prehearing conference, which would be held before the formal hearing that will grant or deny the application.
    “The pre-hearing conference would be to figure out where we are,” he said. “It’s to see if there’s the possibility of some kind of settlement of the issue.”
Greg Moore:

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