IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Partners who received a $5.18 million USDA grant to benefit the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer say they want to make certain a chunk of their funding goes toward projects that retain flood irrigation. The Idaho Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer Stabilization Project was one of three Idaho efforts USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service supported with Regional Conservation Partnership Program funds in late 2016.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc., the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Wood River Land Trust have all agreed to contribute funding or in-kind matches in support of grant projects.
IGWA Executive Director Lynn Tominaga said grant partners hosted a planning meeting in late November.
The programs will roll out next May.
Tominaga explained the partners have asked NRCS to establish separate funding pools for individual practices so that similar applications compete against one another and a diversity of projects are ultimately approved.
Tominaga said the partners would like $1 million to be set aside for sharing costs of infrastructure upgrades with irrigators who keep flood irrigation in place, thereby allowing surface water to seep into the aquifer and providing marshy habitat for wildlife. Another $1 million would help irrigators who use groundwater switch to alternate surface water sources, and $2.5 million would go toward removing pivot end-guns and planting the dried field corners in vegetation benefiting wildlife. Remaining funds would support additional water conservation efforts — such as fallowing fields.
Tominaga said all of the practices provide ways to help IGWA members meet mandatory groundwater irrigation cutbacks required under a 2015 water call settlement with the Surface Water Coalition. Collectively, irrigators must reduce their groundwater use by 240,000 acre-feet per year, which averages to about a 12 percent reduction per user.
Tominaga said flood irrigation has been replaced throughout much of the plain by more efficient sprinkler irrigation throughout the years, but it remains a common practice in the Mud Lake area and surrounding the Upper Snake River.
“We want to see the practices of incidental recharge from flood irrigation kept in place because that helps build the aquifer,” Tominaga said. “It will help the wildlife habitat at the same time.”
Sal Palazzolo, IDFG farm bill coordinator, said retention of flood irrigation was included as a practice in a previous NRCS grant. Though several flood irrigators applied, none of their projects were funded because the scoring system gave preference to end-gun removal. Establishing funding pools should ensure that the partners get “a really good start” on retaining flood irrigation.
“If 10 people apply for flood irrigation, they should be competing against each other,” Palazzolo said, adding funding can be shifted to other pools if there are an insufficient number of applications.