Idaho governor praises aquifer recharge efforts

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s annual state of the state address and proposed budget include a number of funding items and shout-outs to projects that affect the state’s farming and timber industries.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on January 9, 2018 5:28PM

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter addresses the Legislature. He said this is the first year since the 1950s that more water was put into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer than was taken out for irrigation.

Associated Press File

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter addresses the Legislature. He said this is the first year since the 1950s that more water was put into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer than was taken out for irrigation.

BOISE — In his annual state of the state address, Gov. Butch Otter gave a shout-out to the state’s aquifer recharge efforts and noted that inroads are being made to improve the health of federal forests.

Otter, a rancher who is entering his last year as governor, also praised the efforts of the state’s nine volunteer rangeland fire protection associations that help state and federal agencies combat wildfires.

As a result of last winter’s enormous snowpacks, the state, working with private canal companies, was able to recharge 317,000 acre-feet of water back into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in 2017, Otter said.

The aquifer provides irrigation water for more than 2 million acres of farm land in southern Idaho.

A water settlement between surface and groundwater users resulted in 200,000 acre-feet of water also being preserved, he said in his Jan. 8 address, which kicked off the 2018 Idaho Legislature.

“Along with the wet weather, the result was a 660,000 acre-foot increase in water storage in the aquifer,” Otter said. “For the first time since the 1950s, we put more water back into the (aquifer) than we pumped out in 2017.”

The amazing snowpack year also “provided a full allocation of water in the Boise River and Snake River reservoirs and plenty of carryover (water) for use in 2018,” he said.

Ten Good Neighbor Authority projects have resulted in land and watershed improvements on Forest Service land, Otter said. The authority allows the Forest Service to enter into contracts with states to manage forests and restore watersheds.

“The efficiency and effectiveness of this work is so apparent that federal agencies are eager to line up more Good Neighbor Authority projects with help from the state,” Otter said.

His proposed budget, also released Jan. 8, calls for spending authority for eight new Idaho Department of Lands positions “as we expand this program that’s working for Idaho.”

Otter’s proposed budget asks legislators to approve an additional $400,000 in funding for the Wolf Depredation Control Board. In an agreement reached in 2014, that money is augmented by $110,000 a year from the state’s cattle industry and $110,000 from Idaho sportsmen.

That will result in a total of $620,000 the board will have again this year to control problem wolves. Supporters of the effort say the money is needed because federal funding for the control of depredating wolves in Idaho has declined by that same amount.

“That’s been a successful program,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson who helped develop that plan.

The governor’s budget also calls for an additional $87,000 to help the Idaho Brand Inspector’s office finish developing tracking software to electronically manage animal identification numbers and livestock movement data. The office received $250,000 for that effort last year as well.

Idaho Brand Inspector Larry Hayhurst told Capital Press the new system will greatly improve efficiency.

“We’re not changing what we’re doing at all. We’re just going from a paper to electronic system,” he said. “It gets us into the 21st century is what it does.”

In his address, Otter noted the rangeland fire protection associations, which include 330 southern Idaho ranchers and farmers, “are now providing initial (wildfire) attack capability and expert local protection on more than 9 million acres of Idaho rangeland.”

He said they provide “protection from wildfires that threaten sage grouse habitat and the forage that our ranching and farming families need to stay in business.”


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