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Water calls mount against Magic Valley irrigators

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Groundwater irrigators in Magic Valley have been confronted with multiple new water calls in response to the case filed by the Rangen, Inc., fish farm in Hagerman.

BOISE, Idaho — Water delivery calls are beginning to mount against junior groundwater irrigators in the Magic Valley.

Calls the Idaho Department of Water Resources previously dismissed as futile have become relevant based on the perceived improvement in accuracy of a newly updated groundwater model used in the state’s calculations.

In January, IDWR director Gary Spackman ruled on a test case for the updated model. He found groundwater users west of the Great Rift near American Falls owe the Hagerman fish farm Rangen, Inc., 9.1 cubic feet per second of spring water, with the full obligation to be phased in over five years. Spackman determined they owe Rangen 3.4 cubic feet per second this season, and their first mitigation plan fell short by 0.4 cubic feet per second.

While Idaho Ground Water Appropriators members await Spackman’s ruling on a second mitigation plan, which they hope will fully address depleted flows to Rangen’s spring, other trout farms and surface irrigators have been spurred to file their own calls.

IDWR received Aquarius Aquaculture’s call on Feb. 14 and processed two additional calls on May 28. ARK Fisheries alleges it’s entitled to 4.69 cubic feet per second, with actual flows fluctuating from 1.8-3 cubic feet per second. LynClif Farms has asked to reactivate a call it made in December 2003, noting its sturgeon ponds can be stocked only 40 percent full due to insufficient water.

IGWA Executive Director Lynn Tominaga said members expected the Rangen case’s outcome would send a signal for others to file calls.

IGWA attorney T.J. Budge said his clients are proactively working toward a deal to avert another potential call by Buckeye Ranch, and he anticipates a few more former calls may still be resurrected.

If no additional mitigation measures are accepted, Tominaga said curtailment would affect 25,000 acres and shut down three regional cheese plants.

Spackman is expected to render a decision on the second mitigation plan within 30 days of June 5, when hearings on the proposal were completed. The crux of the plan involves piping water from Tucker Springs, a water source for a nearby Idaho Department of Fish and Game hatchery, to Rangen. IGWA would be expected to build IDFG a new hatchery at the Aqua Life fish farm, which was recently purchased by IDWR.

Seeing no need to wait on proposing additional options, IGWA has already submitted a  hird mitigation plan. It calls for piping water 2.3 miles directly from Aqua Life to Rangen. Though an Aqua Life pipeline would be a mile longer and cost $1 million extra to build, Tominaga said the plan would save $7 million in constructing a new hatchery. Land owners would have to grant easements for an Aqua Life pipeline to go forward.

Rangen attorney Fritz Haemmerle worries diseases of unknown origin at the IDFG hatchery may trace to Tucker Springs and believes neither mitigation plan addresses the fundamental problem of over-allocation of water.

“It’s a ludicrous shell game,” Haemmerle said.

Budge said IGWA also proposed in its third mitigation plan to filter and recirculate water for Rangen and to place gages on the Sandy Ponds aquifer recharge site to facilitate recharge credits to IGWA.



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