BOISE, Idaho — Up to 38,000 groundwater-irrigated acres in the Magic Valley with priority dates junior to Oct. 13, 1978 stand to be curtailed on May 5 under a recent ruling by Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman.
In a final order issued in January, Spackman ruled junior groundwater users west of the Great Rift near American Falls owe the Hagerman experimental fish farm Rangen Inc., 9.1 cubic feet per second of water, to be phased in over five years beginning with 3.4 cfs this season.
Following a three-day hearing in mid-March, Spackman’s recent ruling finds a mitigation plan offered by groudwater users fails to fully compensate for flow reductions their activities have caused at Rangen’s spring. Spackman granted the irrigators credit for aquifer recharge activities, converting groundwater rights to surface water rights and converting irrigated farm land to wildlife habitat.
Nonetheless, he found the irrigators were still short 0.6 cfs of meeting their obligations. Spackman said in his order he’ll allow the irrigators to make up an additional 0.3 cfs of their deficit through a trade with Hagerman farmer Butch Morris. Morris, who has a right to irrigate crops from the spring Rangen uses, has agreed to trade his spring water for wastewater from Northside Canal Co.’s Sandy Pipeline.
If the trade goes through, curtailment would be narrowed to 22,000 groundwater-irrigated acres in the designated area of impact with priority dates after July 1, 1983, said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Ground Water Appropriators.
Attorneys for IGWA said they have engineering work underway on a new mitigation plan involving construction of a pipeline to bring in spring water from a nearby Idaho Department of Fish and Game hatchery. They intend to request another stay on curtailment and plan to file a motion for Spackman to reconsider his ruling.
Rangen attorney Fritz Haemmerle said his client opposes any more stays, noting it does no good to obtain a curtailment call if it isn’t enforced. Haemmerle said Idaho water policy shouldn’t prioritize junior groundwater rights over senior surface water rights.
“I can’t believe the very best water right in the state of Idaho is a 1980 groundwater right,” Haemmerle said. “There has to be curtailment to manage the aquifer in a real way. People have to plan for conjunctive management.”