BC Idaho State Capitol

Idaho State Capitol

A portion of Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s proposed infrastructure spending plan will benefit statewide irrigators.

He seeks legislative approval of a budget that includes $60 million in one-time spending on water. A goal is to “support major infrastructure projects” that the state Water Resource Board prioritizes, according to his Building Idaho’s Future plan, which addresses a $630 million state budget surplus.

Water Resource Board Vice Chairman Jeff Raybould of St. Anthony said the board’s priority projects “fit into what we believe the governor is proposing. … The water board believes they fit into the governor’s vision for building Idaho’s future.”

Little’s plan would direct around $50 million to the board’s projects. The Legislature’s budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the full Legislature will have the final say.

Raybould on Jan. 14 told the committee the board’s priority projects are raising Anderson Ranch Dam on the South Fork Boise River, helping Mountain Home Air Force Base make its water supply more sustainable, expanding Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer recharge infrastructure in the Snake River’s upper reach, working to improve the Palouse River Basin water supply and potentially increasing storage at Ririe Reservoir and Bear Lake.

The combined projects cost far more than Little’s current proposal, Raybould told Capital Press. They would be done over several years and require stakeholder cooperation.

Work at Anderson Ranch Dam must start by mid-December for the state to qualify for the federal government’s $9.2 million share, he said. The preliminary cost estimate is $83.3 million. The state would cover just over $74 million, primarily by subcontracting with users for the additional water and using revenue-backed bonds.

Idaho must “be able to show the federal government we can keep the project going forward,” Raybould said. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has told state officials that starting engineering by mid-December meets that requirement. Officials are awaiting a final environmental impact statement and record of decision.

IWRB has invested substantially in aquifer-recharge infrastructure in the middle Snake region. In the Upper Snake River Valley to the north and east, “we have had success using the existing canal system and the Egin Lakes recharge site,” Raybould said. “And there are a handful of off-canal recharge sites. But we just don’t have capacity to take advantage of flood-control releases and high runoff when extra runoff is available and water rights are in priority to do managed recharge.”

Potential projects include expanding Egin Lakes recharge infrastructure and building a pipeline at Mud Lake, he said.

Mountain Home and Palouse aquifer declines are at the heart of those IWRB projects.

Raybould said the Palouse project remains in a study phase with a committee of northern Idaho and eastern Washington stakeholders. At Mountain Home AFB, the state’s cost to build a pump station and pipeline would be about $28 million.

A potential water-storage increase at Ririe Reservoir would require a study, but like the possible Bear Lake storage boost could make more water available to users after flood-control operations, he said.

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