Friday, March 21, 2014

In Bellevue, water concerns come to fore

City discusses ways to ensure adequate supply in future

Express Staff Writer

Magic Reservoir south of Bellevue retained exceptionally low reserves last summer, above. Bellevue officials are concerned that low water years in the region could prompt “calls” from downstream water rights holders that could affect supplies in the city. Photo by Willy Cook

     The city of Bellevue is ramping up engineering studies and legal planning in preparation for conjunctive administration of water rights. The studies recently included a calculation of the amount of land on city rights of way that is watered by residents.

     Planning Director Craig Eckles told the Bellevue City Council on Monday that Boise-based SPF Water Engineering calculated that strips of city property totaling 25 acres along city streets are irrigated by residents during summer months. The rights of way often appear to be continuations of private lawns, and sometimes contain plants and trees tended by residents.

     Eckles said there is a total of 182 acres of irrigated lawns, parks and rights of way in the city.

     Attorney Fritz Haemmerle warned the council two months ago that conjunctive water rights administration—of both surface and sub-surface water—could soon cause Bellevue’s lawns to go dry if downstream water rights users make a “call” on upstream users such as Bellevue, especially if the city is relying on municipal wells with junior water rights for irrigation.

     Eckles said SPF calculated that 26 gallons of water is required to irrigate 1 square foot of grass on a city right of way, or 62,400 gallons per year on a 20-by-120-foot strip.

     “We have a lot of green space in our rights of way,” Eckles told the council.

     In an interview, he said he could not say whether the city would prohibit residents from watering the rights of way in response to a water call.

     “This has not been determined yet due to the fact that the conjunctive water management plan that [the Idaho Department of Water Resources] is working on is not completed,” he said.

     In implementing conjunctive management across the state, IDWR has saved Blaine County for last.

     Eckles said that in a water call, typically, water conservation is enforced, including enforcement of odd-even days of irrigation, irrigation timing and potable-use-only rules, depending on the severity and level of the call.   

     Bellevue gets about almost all the water it needs for domestic use and irrigation during peak summer use from an 1880 water right at Muldoon Canyon. The Muldoon right entitles the city to draw 13,500 gallons per minute. Additional water comes from municipal wells with junior—and therefore more vulnerable—rights.

     The Bellevue Public Works Department is researching ways to increase flows from the Muldoon spring, including the possible clearing out of slotted pipes in a water collection system that were replaced 15 years ago, Eckles said.

     “Over time, the pipe collection system becomes loaded with sediment,” he said.

     Public Works Director Dan Black said in an interview that he believes the city is only collecting 1 cubic foot per second of water from the Muldoon spring, even though the 1800 right entitles the city to gather about 3 cfs.

     Black said he didn’t know when the city would clean out the collection system.

     “We’re still in the research phase,” he said.

     Haemmerle said in an interview that Bellevue officials are prudently trying to figure out how many acres they irrigate.

     “They want to make sure they can irrigate those acres with the early [Muldoon] priority right,” he said. “A city should encourage people to use less water and irrigate less.”

     Eckles said the city anticipates spending $9,000 to $13,000 during the next 12 months for legal fees associated with water-rights research. He did not say how much money had been spent to date on research.

     “Bellevue has not received any bills at this time,” he said. “I expect by May there will be some incurred bills to be paid,” he said.      

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