For the week of August 12 thru August 18, 1998  

State water department backs Blaine protest

Express Staff Writer

At first wash, the Blaine County Commissioners, Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho Conservation League have come out on top after their protest of two upstream groundwater-rights transfers.

The proposed transfers would involve two applications to move water from near Magic Reservoir to locales 35 miles upstream on the Big Wood River.

Landowner Dennis Baker would sell agricultural groundwater rights to the Heinz Foundation, relating to Theresa Heinz’s riverside family vacation home, and to Huf-n-Puf Trust, for a home owned by Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn. The two seek to purchase enough water to irrigate five-acre lawns.

However, an Aug. 4 "recommended order" from the Idaho Department of Water Resources hearing officer Glen Saxton concluded that the transfer would "injure existing water rights" and should be denied.

During hearings in April and May, the county commissioners had all testified against the application.

The bite behind their bark came from the Local Public Interest Water Policy, adopted earlier this year.

The policy states that "Blaine County shall protest...transfers of water used primarily for private recreation of private aesthetic value."

The two Idaho environmental groups, which intervened together as a third party against Baker, the Heinz Foundation and Huf-n-Puf, expressed a similar concern.

In his final analysis, the IDWR’s Saxton agreed with Blaine County and the above groups that the depletion to the Big Wood River "is real and can be measured."

Approval would take away water which has, "historically been available to other water rights...upstream from Magic Reservoir," Saxton wrote.

Several hydrologists had previously testified to this end as well, though, others had called any depletion "immeasurable."

Dave Parrish, an environmental biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game testified that even a minuscule depletion to the river affects local fisheries during times of minimum flows and can endanger aquatic life.

Idaho Code required IDWR officials to decide if the transfer led to an enlargement of water use, injury to other water rights, or damage to public or conservation interests.

Saxton’s order is merely a recommendation to IDWR director Karl J. Dreher.

In the months after a 14-day appeal period from Aug. 4, which could involve more oral and written arguments, a final order from Dreher will follow.


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