local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page
 public meetings

 previous edition

 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info
 classifieds info
 internet info
 sun valley central
 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs
Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Friday — April 30, 2004


H2O gurus seek ways to refill aquifer

Recharge could cost millions; take decades to see spring flows

Express Staff Writer

As a tool to help alleviate a water pinch in the Snake River Plain aquifer, recharging the underground reservoir using surface water will be costly and require diligence from the project’s proponents.

"Some of the bigger sites could cost $600,000 to $1 million," said Idaho Department of Water Resources Recharge Project Coordinator David Blew. "There would probably need to be state money to make it work.

Furthermore, many potential recharge sites are on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and would require land exchanges and time-consuming and costly environmental analyses to approve.

"It is not a panacea," Blew said. "It is not a silver bullet. It is another tool in the toolbox that we have to look at."

Blew and Alan Merritt, a regional manager with IDWR, met Tuesday night in Fairfield with members of the Wood River Watershed Advisory Group during the water board’s monthly meeting.

The catalyst for the presentation and discussion Tuesday was a winter-long dispute between Hagerman Valley fish farmers and Snake River Plain groundwater pumpers.

"Okay, we’ve got problems," Merritt said in kicking off his presentation.

He pointed out that flows from the so-called Thousand Springs, aided by surface irrigation on the plain, peaked in the 1950s. Since then, development of groundwater pumping irrigation systems on the plain—among a myriad of other causes, including drought, adjustments in canal operations and more efficient pumping—has diminished the amount of water issuing from the Hagerman area springs.

In response to the problem, the state's chief water manager on Feb. 25 ordered Magic Valley wells on the north side of the Snake River to shut down unless water users could come up with replacement water for a Hagerman-area fish hatchery that is suffering water shortages.

The shutdown was scheduled to apply to wells developed after July 13, 1962.

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Karl Dreher's order would have affected groundwater users in Water District 130, which runs from Gooding and Minidoka counties into Lincoln County.

"The director, he struggled with this determination," Merritt said. "He didn’t do it lightly. I think you have to give Mr. Dreher credit for doing that, quite frankly."

The premise of the decision lies with the interconnected nature of the Snake River Plain Aquifer and the rivers and springs that feed it, and rise from it.

The problem is that ground water has been depleted to the point that it is detracting from springs in the Hagerman valley, where parts of the aquifer have historically dumped into the Snake River. Several Hagerman fish hatchery operators filed with the Department of Water Resources last year because the water they draw from springs had been diminished.

A call by Rangen, Inc., a fish farm with the most senior water rights of those who made a "call" for water, took center stage. Rangen’s water right priority, July 13, 1962, is the date Dreher used as the proposed cutoff for the plain’s irrigators.

But before ground water pumping was curtailed this spring, the state of Idaho entered into an agreement with the Magic Valley Ground Water District, the North Snake Ground Water District and spring users in the Thousand Springs reach of the Snake River. The temporary solution the groups reached was to pump water and money into the Hagerman area this year, and to continue looking for long-term solutions. As another part of the solution, an interim legislative committee is performing an ongoing search for solutions.

"I think everything’s on the table," Merritt said, adding: "If large-scale managed recharge was easy, we would already be doing it."

There are three operational recharge sites on the Snake River Plain, Blew said.

"We’ve got a whole lot of others on the drawing board," he said. "Part of the challenge is that we’re looking for some sort of organizational structure. As we go through this process, we’ll figure out the best organizational structure to carry this out."

For starters, it would take time for aquifer recharge to trickle through the system. If 416,000 acre feet of water were pumped into the aquifer each year, spring flows in the Hagerman reach of the Snake River would increase by 350 to 400 cubic feet per second in 20 years, Blew said.

It’s no coincidence, then, that 416,000 acre feet is the amount of water that could be accommodated by the Milner-Gooding and North Side canals.

"It’s what they’ve used to model a lot of this stuff on," Blew said.

It’s also no secret that there will be lean water years when recharge does not occur. Conversely, in wet years, the powers that be would have to be prepared to get operations underway.

"In the years when water is available from the rental pool, we’re going to have a lot of water," Blew said.

The timeframe under which recharge might begin to occur on a meaningful scale, however, is fuzzy. It depends on a myriad of pieces falling correctly into the ever-changing puzzle.

"I hesitate to say what the time frame’s going to be," Blew said. "I would say that we have to make progress in the next couple of years to make this work. The big thing that’s going to dictate when we’re going to do this is when we have water."

The Snake River Plain Aquifer is one of the largest aquifers on earth and extends for 12,000 square miles beneath the Snake River Plain. It is fed primarily on its northern and eastern peripheries, from the mountains of Central Idaho and the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park. The Snake River flows along the southern margin of the plain, fed by tributaries flowing out of the mountains on the south and east sides of the plain.

The aquifer discharges primarily in two locations: Near American Falls Reservoir, the aquifer empties through springs at about 2,600 cubic feet per second, and near Hagerman at about 5,200 cubic feet per second.


City of Ketchum

Formula Sports


Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

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.