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For the week of January 24 through 30, 2001

Carey reservoir company faces hard times

Even breaking even looks good

"It’s been rough and tough, but we have a good hearty group out here. They’re frugal, and they make do, all the while providing for their families."

Shirl Reay
President, Carey Fish Creek Reservoir Co.

"We’d like to see fisherman and sportsmen more interested in the area. The Fish and Game people say the fish grow faster in the reservoir quicker than anywhere in Idaho."

Lawrence Kimball
Asst. Water Master, Carey Fish Creek Reservoir Co.

Express Staff Writer

The Carey Fish Creek Reservoir Co. is something like an investment company. People buy shares in it in the hope that their investment gives them a good return on their money.

In this case, the shareholders hope for a good water year and that the reservoir fills to its maximum of about 13,500 acre feet.

The Fish Creek drainage is about six miles east of Carey, north of the entrance to the Carey-Kamima Road. The dam and reservoir are about five miles up the drainage.

Company president and Carey farmer Shirl Reay lives about a mile west of the Fish Creek turnoff. He said an acre foot is a little more than one football field with a foot of water evenly stretched across its surface.

The investment in water is supposed to pay off in the harvest of crops, of which Reay expresses little enthusiasm.

"Forty families are shareholders," he said, "and their livelihood depends on that reservoir and if they get a good price for their harvests."

But farming is in hard times, he said. Farmers are lucky to break even on the grains they grow.

Wheat, he said, "is so political, you cannot rely on a price at harvest time." He said wheat prices will fluctuate with the federal government’s decisions to sell to foreign countries.

Reay called potatoes a "laugh."

Barley is a money crop, but as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reay will not grow it since the barley is used to make beer.

That leaves dairy hay and beef cattle as the bright spots in farming.

"We need a third crop of hay to make a profit. If we only get two crops, we break even."

Lawrence Kimball, the water master for Fish Creek, nodded his head in agreement when he heard Reay say this.

He added that if the water runs out before July, a second cutting is questionable.

Kimball and Reay said the largest shareholder in the company has about 2,200 shares, and the smallest about 80. The total number of shares is approximately 13,000, but that varies with the amount of acre feet of water behind Fish Creek dam at the beginning of the growing season.

Shareholder acreages range from 20 acres of farmland to 2,200 acres. Reay said the reservoir supplies water to approximately 7,000 acres of farmland, stretching from the mouth of Fish Creek Canyon west and south to Carey Lake.

Every year shareholders are assessed $2.50 for each share they own in the company. Each share is equivalent to half a cubic foot per second (cfs) of water for 24 hours.

While that looks good on paper, it doesn’t look so good in practice for the shareholders.

In practice, something called shrinkage increases the real price per share.

Kimball said that owning 200 shares in the reservoir does not mean a shareholder will get 200 shares downstream.

Even in a good water year when the reservoir is full, Kimball and Reay said, shrinkage is about 30 percent. By the time the water gets to the fields, 200 shares turns into about 134 due to the amount lost running along canals cut through porous lava flows.

And that is a good scenario.

If the reservoir does not fill, Kimball said, a shareholder may only get 100 shares of the 200 he has already paid for. Shareholders don’t get refunds if the reservoir doesn’t produce the water they paid for.

Kimball said he estimates that in recent years, the cost of shareholders to actually get half a cfs for 24 hours to their farmland has ranged between $7 and $10, depending on the amount of water available.

"It just seems like we’re always losing," Reay said. "It’s been rough and tough, but we have a good hearty group out here. They’re frugal and they make do, all the while providing for their families." Kimball attested to Reay’s words: "There’s no one as frugal with water as these people. No one in Idaho conserves better than these people."

After explaining the farming business, Kimball made a pitch for the fishing in Fish Creek reservoir. It’s his hope that an interest by fishermen will help his company raise funds for improvements.

"The Fish and Game people say the fish grow faster in the reservoir quicker than anywhere in Idaho."

That, he said, is because of the shrimp the reservoir breeds.

As for the best fishing spots in the reservoir, you’ll have to call the Fish Creek Reservoir Co.


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