College of Southern Idaho mulls trout farm purchase from state

The former Pristine Springs trout farm, pictured above, may be sold by the Idaho Water Board to the College of Southern Idaho. The cooperative purchase of the facility in 2008 by the state, the City of Twin Falls and Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc., helped resolve a water call.

JEROME, Idaho — The College of Southern Idaho is in discussions with the Idaho Water Board about purchasing the former Pristine Springs fish facility — positioning CSI for possible expansion of its aquaculture and agriculture programs.

Curtis Eaton, special assistant to the CSI president, explained the college’s main campus in Twin Falls has a geothermal heating system. CSI’s primary interest in making the deal is obtaining a geothermal well that comes with the property to prevent future development of the hot-water aquifer, which would threaten the viability of the college’s unique heating system.

Eaton said securing the 4.5 cubic-feet-per-second geothermal water right would also enable CSI to expand its heating system as the college grows. A dozen buildings at the Twin Falls campus use geothermal heat wholly or in part, Eaton said. Eaton said recent estimates place the cost of retrofitting CSI’s heating system to a combination of electricity and gas at more than $1 million, and the added energy cost compared with geothermal heat would be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Eaton said the college also sees a potential perk in using the raceways and a couple of hundred acres of irrigated farm land that come with the property to bolster its livestock, crop science and aquaculture programs. CSI raises trout and sturgeon and works closely on aquaculture with University of Idaho, Eaton said.

“The college began with support from the agriculture community, and it continues to be a very important part of what CSI is,” Eaton said.

Eaton said a riparian area and animal habitat would also be useful to CSI’s environmental science program. The college is also mulling the possibility of creating a public park at Pristine Springs, he said.

Plans to grow agricultural programs would have to wait until after the expiration of a long-term lease for fish production with Colorado-based Evaqua Farms. Evaqua, which bought the assets of SeaPac of Idaho on Jan. 1, has 17 years remaining on its lease, according to a manager with the company.

The state, the City of Twin Falls and groundwater districts jointly purchased Pristine Springs in 2008 to resolve a water call by Blue Lakes Trout Farm. IGWA paid about $10 million for 10 cubic feet per second of spring water. Twin Falls also received water, and the state spent about $5 million to acquire the hatchery, geothermal well, farm land and buildings.

Though IGWA acquired the first-use spring water rights once held by the facility, Evaqua fattens fish with water that has already passed through upstream aquaculture facilities.

Idaho Department of Water Resources Planning Division Manager Brian Patton said the board signed a letter of intent to sell the property on Dec. 22. Patton said the most recent board appraisal placed the facility’s value at $3.6 million, compared with a $2.7 million estimate from a CSI appraisal.

Eaton said the college has commissioned to have the property re-appraised, since those appraisals are three years old. Eaton expects the new appraisal will be returned by late February and anticipates roughly six more weeks would be needed for conducting “due diligence” prior to closing.

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