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Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Carey city water part of Snake aquifer crisis

One-year reprieve negotiated

"The legislative leadership, the governor and lawyers came to the conclusion that this is serious and we’re going to do some thing about it."

CLINT STENNETT, Senate Minority Leader, D-Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Advocates for groundwater users on the north side of the Snake River—including the Carey Water and Sewer District and the Carey Valley Groundwater Users—struck a tentative agreement Monday to prevent the shutdown April of more than 1,300 wells in Southcentral Idaho.

The Idaho Department of Water Resources order had come at a time when the Carey Planning and Zoning Commission is considering three subdivision applications. One of those would require annexation into the water and sewer district to achieve water utilities, said Carey Planning and Zoning Administrator Linda Patterson.

"Rangen is calling for its 1962 water rights," Patterson said of the older water right holder, Rengan Inc., a Hagerman aqua culture firm that said it was short 16,000-acre feet of water last year. "Carey’s rights are after that date. We’ve got to get more information (about the curtailment of water rights) before we consider annexation requests into the Carey Water and Sewer District."

Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennet, D-Ketchum, said Tuesday the negotiation if it goes forward will delay enforcement of the water curtailment order for one year.

He said the negotiation in the Legislature took all day Monday and that the debate was heated but taken seriously by legislators, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and attorneys.

"The legislative leadership, the governor and lawyers came to the conclusion that this is serious and we’re going to do some thing about it," he said. "Not everyone was happy about it. But, I think everybody is coming to the same conclusion . . . Its going to take a long time to heal the aquifer."

At issue is a Feb. 25 order by the Idaho Department of Water Resources to curtail water rights conferred after July 13, 1962, said IDWR spokesman Dick Larsen. "The older water right is making the call."

The Carey Water and Sewer District submitted a petition to inform IDWR about how the city would be impacted if Carey municipal drinking water, included in the water right, was shut off.

"I don’t think they’ll shut it off," said Craig Patterson, president of the Carey Water and Sewer District. "That’d be kind of crazy."

But, until the issue is resolved the city will hold off from processing subdivision applications, Linda Patterson said.

"With respect to groundwater (the conflict) is quite unique in the state in terms of breadth," said Dana Hofstetter, the attorney who filed the petition Friday on behalf of the Carey Water and Sewer District in protest of the curtailment order. "The order effects a large portion of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer."

As at least 21 protests like the Carey Water and Sewer petition poured into IDWR offices this week, the dynamics of the competition for water became apparent, Larsen said.

"We’re seeing spring levels similar to the drought of 1987 to 1992; 1992 was the worst year. We’re seeing spring flow levels equivalent to that," he said. "(The curtailment order) is due almost entirely to four years of severe drought. It’s like the snake that starts eating on its own tail. Next year will be just as bad or worse...each of our drought years is worse than the last one."

Larsen said the dynamics of water use also impact the lowering aquifer.

"When it’s hot people start pumping to their full rights to irrigate," he said. "The irrigation season is warm rather than cool and moist. All the factors at one time (have) pounded our water levels. The (aquifer’s) springs (in Hagerman) themselves have been injured. It isn’t about how much you’ve lost its about not getting what your rights allow."

The water Rangen expects to be short could be delivered in two ways.

"We could put it back into aquifer to get it to him or we could find a fish hatchery to buy the water from," Larsen said. "It’s a really important thing."

Conservation will be part of the one-year compromise and the terms could be set by the end of the week, Stennet said. The big question is enforcement.

Larsen agreed. "If we order someone to shut off their water, they are probably going to turn it back on 20 minutes after we leave," he said.

The agreement will include hiring a new enforcement officer for the IDWR, Stennet said.


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