State proposal would limit new recharge water rights
By JOHN O'CONNELL
BOISE -- The director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources has drafted legislation that would restrict private entities from acquiring new water rights specifically for aquifer recharge.
Instead, all new recharge rights would be held by the Idaho Water Resource Board, which could provide a more uniform and transparent modeling and accounting system while managing with the public's interest in mind, said IDWR Director Gary Spackman.
Spackman emphasized private parties could still convert existing storage water rights for recharge use. Furthermore, the bill would grandfather in existing private recharge rights, such as one Micron Technology holds to offset water used in manufacturing.
Critics of the bill, however, worry it would stymie the ability to inject excess water into the aquifer that would otherwise flow away unused during peak runoff times.
Spackman explained state agencies are asked each year to submit their legislative ideas to the governor's office. The bill will be introduced through Idaho's nonpartisan Legislative Services Office.
"We're still in the process of amending language to some degree," Spackman said.
Spackman said the bill addresses an issue "that's been crying for some action." He anticipates public management would be more flexible and would thus prevent excessive recharge from infringing on other water rights.
"Everybody agrees we ought to maximize the opportunity for diversion of water when water is available for managed groundwater recharge," Spackman said. "There are differences of opinion regarding how to best manage the water."
The bill would also acknowledge the practice of awarding credits, redeemable by groundwater users who buy them, to surface water rights holders who intentionally allow water to seep into aquifers. Spackman said the water board could still contract with private recharge entities to conduct recharge projects.
Dave Tuthill, a partner in the private Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer recharge program Recharge Alliance, Inc., doubts the private sector would be willing or able to conduct recharge without holding the water right. Tuthill believes the issue is too vital to act upon this session and advocates referring the matter to the state's Interim Legislative Committee for Natural Resources for a thorough review.
Tuthill said the private sector has historically been responsible for Idaho's water development. He acknowledged the state should play a role in offering a uniform modeling and accounting system for credits.
"There's a huge opportunity to appropriate water for additional recharge throughout the state. I'm not certain the government should be the only entity that conducts such projects," Tuthill said.
Idaho Water Resource Board Vice Chairman Roger Chase, believes state control could prevent needless water calls during dry years.
"We have calls going on. We've got pumpers struggling. We don't want to make the situation worse for people by moving and making mistakes as we have in the past on allocation of water," Chase said. "I think it's really important the state has oversight over this."
Lynn Tominaga, executive director of Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, said his organization will discuss the issue before weighing in.