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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 30, 2004


Milner focus of water solution

Plan would dry Snake, retire groundwater irrigation

Express Staff Writer

As a hydrographer for the North Snake Groundwater District, Jeff Martin said it is far too premature to begin forecasting that any of the Snake River Plain’s land needs to go out of production to resolve water right disputes.

"The timing of what’s going on right now is interesting," he told a group of irrigators Tuesday night at a meeting of the Wood River Watershed Advisory Group in Fairfield. "It affords us the opportunity to revamp some of the state’s water policy."

Martin drew a relatively simple model of the Snake River and Snake River Plain to illustrate there should be plenty of water to go around. However, he offered a disclaimer up front, saying his numbers were inexact. His demonstration was designed to serve as a concept and to frame the ongoing water discussion.

The gist of his concept is that the Snake River delivers about 12 million acre-feet of water each year into Idaho. Only 5 million acre-feet go to agriculture. More water is lost to the Snake River Plain Aquifer. The upper Snake River reservoirs hold about 4 million acre-feet.

"If there’s 12 million coming in, and we’re only using 5 million, what’s the problem?" he asked.

He turned his focus to the Milner Dam near Murtaugh, where about 2.5 million acre-feet of water are passed downstream each year to benefit fish and to pass through hydroelectric facilities at Milner and Shoshone Falls, at Twin Falls.

If the section of river below Milner was dried up, the water could be diverted via the Milner-Gooding and Northside canals onto the plain, where it would seep through canals, recharge sites and farm fields into the aquifer. Springs in the Thousand Springs stretch of the Snake would continue to give rise to the river again, only the water would be colder, cleaner and more abundant.

"You get two benefits," Martin said. "You don’t divert the ground water, so it stays in the aquifer. While you are diverting that surface water for irrigation, you are doing recharge. Increasing surface water irrigation is the best way to conserve ground water and recharge the ground water at the same time. And it has the benefit of reducing power consumption (by pumping less groundwater for irrigation) as well.

"As water users, we owe it to ourselves and to Hagerman to manage this water better."


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