Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Plan would split irrigation district

County to review proposal to separate canal users into 2 groups

Express Staff Writer

A plan has been proposed to split the Irrigation District No. 45 into two entities. Express file photo

    The Blaine County Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 5, will review a petition to divide the Wood River Valley Irrigation District No. 45 into two separate irrigation districts. The public hearing will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the new County Courthouse annex in Hailey.
    “New legislation passed [in 2013] allowing this [partition] to happen,” said County Commissioner Angenie McCleary. “This is the first irrigation district using it.”
    McCleary said the Blaine County Commission will read the petition to see that it meets criteria for approval. Included in that criteria is a requirement that those petitioning for separation account for at least 50 percent of the canal system’s water use.
    The No. 45 Irrigation District serves about 125 property owners in southern Blaine County. The petition, initiated by a small group of large landowners, seeks to create a new, 6,000-acre irrigation district out of the current 9,400-acre one, leaving numerous “small” users with the remaining No. 45 District.
    Presenting in favor of the petition at a County Commission meeting last month, John Fell Stevenson of Hillside Ranch in Bellevue said “agriculture users” and “residential water users” on the canal system differ regarding its the operation and purpose.
    “There has been much discussion and acrimony,” Stevenson said.
    Jim Super, president of the board of directors of the No. 45 Irrigation District, said in an interview that a group of smaller water users have organized to fight the partition, in part because the separation could privilege a small group of bigger consumers with increased control over the irrigation system.
    Super said the large property owners on the district also include Sarah Gardner, Tom O’Gara and Pepin Corso-Harris.    
    Super said the existing single district has been effective at reducing costs and delivering water to users and that by staying together they could better face the mitigation issues and other circumstances that will likely affect them all when conjunctive water rights management is applied to the Wood River Valley.
    Conjunctive water rights management is when surface water rights and groundwater rights are administered together. Under conjunctive management, older, surface water rights are given precedence over more junior groundwater sources during dry spells.    
    “Personality differences should not absorb the district,” said Brett Stevenson, speaking for the family of John Stevenson.
     “Our intention is simple: an irrigation district that provides efficient delivery and fair assessments with civility. At this point it seems that two districts are more capable of achieving this.”    
Tony Evans:

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