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For the week of November 21 - 27, 2001


State targets illegal ranchette irrigation

Express Staff Writer

Ranchette owners who illegally irrigate large areas of land using a well intended only for limited domestic use are the subject of a crackdown by the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Idaho law separates land ownership from the right to use water on it. Landowners are allowed to drill domestic wells for irrigating half an acre of land and other uses up to 13,000 gallons per day. But any irrigation beyond that requires a separate water right.

Some landowners are watering more than they should with domestic wells.

The problem appears to occur especially in areas with ranchettes of three to five acres in size with upscale houses on them.

"There’s a 100-percent chance it’s happening in Blaine County," said Dick Larsen, spokesman for the IDWR, though the extent of the problem is not yet clear.

Larsen said that landowners might not know they are doing anything wrong, because they were never informed of the laws when they bought the land.

An ongoing drought and newly available technology has spurred the IDWR to focus on the issue.

The department is using satellite imagery and on-site visits to check water use.

Joel Hall, who maintains Blaine County’s Geographic Information System, said that he provided digital maps and parcel information, including owners’ names and addresses, to IDWR in October.

Hall said the IDWR is analyzing areas throughout Blaine County and the rest of the state, but a report is not yet available.

Individuals caught violating the water laws could be assessed a fine of $100 per day or a larger fine for each acre watered, Larsen said.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.