Junior water right holders put on notice

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press A worker cleans a screen at the head of a raceway at Clear Springs Foods’ trout farm near Buhl, Idaho, on Aug. 7.

State warns of possible curtailments for 2010 irrigation season

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

Junior ground water users in Southern Idaho have been put on notice once again that their pumps could be shut down -- this time for the 2010 irrigation season.

Gary Spackman, interim director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, issued a notice of potential curtailment on Nov. 2 to hundreds of ground water rights holders who draw water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The curtailment would affect pumpers with water rights that are junior to the water rights held by two trout farms and a coalition of surface water users in the region.

Fish farms and canal companies have seen their water flows decline in recent years, and the state has found that ground water pumping is at least partially responsible.

Clear Springs Foods, Blue Lakes Trout Farm Inc. and a coalition of surface irrigators that includes the A&B Irrigation District, Twin Falls Canal Co., North Side Canal Co., Minidoka Irrigation District, Burley Irrigation District and the American Falls Reservoir District No. 2, appealed to the state more than five years ago to force junior ground water pumpers to shut down or provide mitigation.

Ground water pumpers have provided some replacement water, but not as much as senior surface and spring water rights holders want.

Spackman ordered some curtailments this summer after he determined that there was a shortfall in the amount of replacement water provided to Clear Springs Foods. A district judge later granted a stay.

Pending further court action, the department of water resources may require curtailment of ground water rights having a priority date junior to Aug. 11, 1990, if ground water users provide no additional mitigation to Clear Springs Foods in 2010, Spackman said in the notice.

The state has scheduled a hearing Dec. 7 on a mitigation plan by Idaho Ground Water Appropriators to provide replacement water to Clear Springs Food via an over-the-canyon-rim pipeline.

"If the mitigation plan is not approved, ground water rights junior to Feb. 4, 1964, could be subject to curtailment," Spackman said in the notice.

Spackman will wait until April 1 before deciding how much material injury is likely to occur to members of the surface water coalition next year as a result of junior ground water pumping.

He'll look at April 1 snow survey data and spring runoff forecasts before making a decision.

"Depending on the expected snowpack, the determination could result in the curtailment of consumptive ground water rights during the 2010 irrigation season," Spackman informed ground water users in the notice.

If the projected runoff is at least 65 percent of normal, no curtailment will likely be required, Spackman said.

However, if projected runoff is the same as it was in 1977, the lowest runoff year on record (48 percent of normal), then ground water rights with priority dates junior to March 29, 1978, could be subject to curtailment, Spackman said.

Staff writer Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. E-mail: dwilkins@capitalpress.com.

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